Hot Springs passed for a liberal precinct in 1954. The people who ran the Hot Springs Bathers in the Cotton States League, including a Republican lawyer and politician named Hank Britt, hired two black pitchers, Jim “Schoolboy” Tugerson and his brother Leander. The other Arkansas and Mississippi cities in the league announced they wouldn’t play the Bathers if they fielded a Negro. The attorney general, J. P. Coleman, declared it illegal in Mississippi for a black man to play baseball on the same field as whites.
My beloved Oilers at El Dorado and the other teams voted to expel the Bathers until their management agreed not to play a Tugerson. When Schoolboy went to the mound anyway against the Jackson Senators, before he could deliver a pitch the umpire forfeited the game to Jackson.
The Tugersons picked up and went to Knoxville, Tenn., where the unhittable Schoolboy won 33 games that season. Before the season was out, Britt managed to put a black Langston High School lad, Uvoyd Reynolds, and another player from the Negro American League on the field for a few games at Hot Springs, and attendance jumped. But other cities—El Dorado, Helena, Pine Bluff—were not ready to see black athletes. I went to town one August night that year to see the Oilers pound the Greenville Buckshots. Jim Johnson from nearby Crossett, who was running for attorney general to fight integration, stood at the plate with his wife and sang “On Mockingbird Hill” at the seventh-inning stretch. The Cotton States League, facing integration and other issues, folded the next season, and for some of us summers were never the same.
PS — A hardcore fan sends an image from a retailer of historic baseball garb of a Hot Springs Bathers replica jersey, now sold out.