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Original Issue

Leading Off

Tour de Force



On June 24—one week after nine African-American people were killed in a racially motivated shooting in a Charleston, S.C., church—a group of teens from Philadelphia disembarked from a 68-year-old bus and filed into the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, where in 1963 a Ku Klux Klan bomb killed four African-American girls. They listened as Rev. Arthur Price Jr., a black South Philly native like many of them, related the church's history. They heard Doug Jones, a former U.S. attorney who successfully prosecuted two Klansmen nearly four decades after the bombing, explain how if the teens had been in a protest across the street from the church in 1963, they'd have been met with dogs and spray from fire hoses. And half of them raised their hands as Lisa McNair, the sister of the youngest girl killed 52 years ago, asked if any of the kids were 14, the age of three of the victims. "They left the Earth when they were 14 years old," McNair said. "What are you going to do with your life?" A few hours later, the kids went and played a baseball game at Rickwood Field, the oldest ballpark in America. Such is life on the road with the Anderson Monarchs. The team—named for the Marian Anderson Rec Center, which it calls home, and the Negro leagues' Kansas City Monarchs—spent 23 days this summer barnstorming across the South and the East. They tend to fare well on the diamond: Last year seven Monarchs, including Mo'ne Davis, were on the Taney Dragons All-Star team that made it to the Little League World Series. But baseball is only a small part of the Monarchs' mission. Their coach, 54-year-old Steve Bandura, is zealous when it comes to teaching the kids about the civil rights movement. Bandura, an employee of the Philadelphia parks department, founded the Jackie Robinson T-ball league in South Philly in 1993. Two years later he formed a travel team, the Monarchs. They play year-round—baseball, basketball and soccer—growing and learning together. This year's tour is Bandura's fourth and included stops at multiple civil rights landmarks. The kids went in wide-eyed but hardly uninformed. For six months before the tour, Bandura prepped them, showing them films, including Roots, and leading discussions on Friday nights at the rec center. When they departed, it was on a 1947 Flxible Clipper bus with no AC and no electronics allowed. Why 1947? That was the year Jackie Robinson broke the color line. The Monarchs walked the bridge in Selma, met with home run hero Henry Aaron in Atlanta, got dusty on the diamond, adjusted to life on the road and swapped tips with Max Scherzer—the day before the Nats' ace would toss a no-hitter.



When they weren't checking out old-time gear in their throwback unis, the Monarchs (clockwise from bottom right) learned about Rosa Parks in Montgomery, the assassination of Martin Luther King in Memphis, the Freedom Ride from Congressman John Lewis; they visited the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta and rolled on to Rickwood.



A year after her Little League breakout, Davis (11) showed she can still fire it from 60'6" on a sometimes exhausting, always exhilarating tour that took the teens to iconic spots of the civil rights movement, including Little Rock Central High.