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Black History Month: Moses Fleetwood Walker

Moses Fleetwood Walker cionie pena/via flickr


Black History Month: Moses Fleetwood Walker

This article is part of a special tribute to African-American individuals or teams who have sacrificed and broken through various forms of restriction to achieve greatness, not solely defined within sport, but among humanity.

Every year on April 15th Major League Baseball celebrates Jackie Robinson Day.  April 15th is symbolic because in 1947 this date was opening day and the beginning of Jackie Robinson’s Career.  Jackie is celebrated as the first African-American to break the color barrier in Major League Baseball.  We celebrate this day because it was a beginning of the desegregation of baseball and a growth of the game that changed the game as we know it.

What many of us didn’t realize is there is another name that has been hidden to most of us, that also represents the same courage that Jackie Robinson would show in 1947. That name is Moses Fleetwood Walker, also known as “Fleet”.  Fleet Walker was born October 7, 1856 in Mount Pleasant, OH, a town in Jefferson County.  He was born to parents; Moses W. Walker and Caroline O’Harra Walker, both of whom were mixed race.

As you may well know the records kept in those days are a little iffy, but the first known record of Fleets baseball playing was at the preparatory program at Oberlin College.  He established himself as a Catcher for the prep team and became the leadoff hitter.

After faring well at Oberlin College, Walker was recruited by the University of Michigan’s baseball team.  While attending Michigan Walker had the opportunity to play for the White Sewing Machine Club, based in Cleveland, Ohio.  Walker had never experienced racism until this point in his career.  While the team tried to dine St. Cloud Hotel in Kentucky, Walker was refused service because he was black. Later things would get worse for Walker. When the game was played the opposing team refused to take the field when Walker was put in at catcher. Walker was pulled, but his replacement could not handle the pitches thrown to him. When the crowd began to chant for Walker to play, the opposing team’s owner allowed the Cleveland team to put Walker in the game.  In 1882 Walker would finish the season with a .308 batting average as Michigan finished 10-3 on the season.

The Minor Leagues

In 1883 Walker signed with the Toledo Blue Stockings to play Minor League ball.  In his first season with the team on August 10th, Walker would once again see Racism rear its ugly head.  As the Blue Stockings set to face the Chicago White Stockings, Cap Anson refused to take the field with Walker.  Blue Stockings manager Charlie Morton reminded Anson that if he refused to play he would forfeit all gate receipts for the day.  After some thought Anson had a change of heart and decided to play the game.

Black History Month: Moses Fleetwood Walker

WorldShore/via flickr

History is made

In 1884 Toledo joined the American Association, or as we know it today as the American League.  The American Association was a Major League association that competed against the National League.  Walker made his Major League début on May 1 against the Louisville Eclipse and things didn’t go so well. In his début, he went hitless and had four errors.

Walker would move around during his brief Major league career between the Newark Little Giants and ending his career in 1889 when he was released by the Syracuse New York club.  Shortly after Walkers release we would see Major League Baseball incorporate an unofficial ban on African-American baseball players.  The ban would last all the way until the 1947 season when Jackie Robinson was finally able to break the color barrier.  In the 42 games that Walker played in the majors he would bat .263 with 40 hits, 2 doubles and 3 triples.

Black History Month: Moses Fleetwood Walker

Brandon Bartoszek/via Flickr

Inventions and Business

Walker would find success and failures in his life after baseball.  He and his brother Weldy would open the Union Hotel in Steubenville, Oh.  Later Walker would go on to manage the Opera House and is also credited with the invention of the exploding Artillery shell.


Racism and baseball

Throughout Walkers career he faced many adversaries that hated him because of the color of his skin.  That kind of hate would also show up throughout his life after baseball.  In one instance Walker was attacked by an angry group of white men in Syracuse, NY.  In the altercation Walker stabbed a man and was charged with second degree murder.  However, in a jury of all whites Walker found his redemption.  The jury would acquit Walker of all charges and set him free.


Moses Fleetwood Walker vs Jackie Robinson

It is highly recognized that Jackie Robinson was the first black player in Major League baseball.  Both Walker and Robinson faced the racial attacks and bigotry and both suffered through the pain of racism in baseball, but the one thing that is for sure is that Moses Fleetwood Walker was in fact the first black player in baseball.  Not to take anything away from what Jackie Robinson was able to accomplish or the struggles he faced, but history has buried the name of another man who deserves recognition for that same struggle and that man is Moses Fleetwood Walker.



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