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Book Notes

August 15, 2013

Former ballplayer has gift for writing, recreating history

History is something you never stop learning. The more you know the more you realize you don’t know the half of it. The civil rights struggle in this country is a good example of that. No matter how rough race relations come across in textbooks, novels and movies, there is always another story to leave you shaking your head in disbelief.

Larry Colton is a writer and former professional baseball player. He has a unique ability to find an undiscovered piece of history and turn it into a spellbinding story. He achieved his bona fides with “No Ordinary Joes,” his amazing biography of four U.S. Navy submariners who survived capture and internment by the Japanese during World War II. It was a side of the WWII that few people were aware of and Colton told it with incredible passion. If anyone could provide a provocative twist to the civil rights movement it would be Colton.

Combining his love of baseball and his knack for a good story, Colton came upon the ideal tale to explore race relations in the Deep South in 1964. A new minor league was being established that was to be called the Southern League. Included in the league were the Birmingham (Alabama) Barons, a squad that included two African Americans and three Hispanics, and was the first integrated team in the city’s history. Colton’s review of that season in the midst of the civil rights movement resulted in his new book, “Southern League: A True Story of Baseball, Civil Rights, and the Deep South’s Most Compelling Pennant Race.”

It was the ultimate experiment in racial tolerance since Martin Luther King considered Birmingham the most segregated city in America. It was the home to Bull Connor, the Birmingham commissioner of public safety, who infamously ordered police dogs and water hoses to be turned on peaceful civil rights protesters. Alabama’s governor was George Wallace, whose best-known quote was, “Segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!” Birmingham was also the city where four young black girls were killed when members of the Ku Klux Klan set their church on fire.

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