From John Harris at The Undefeated on February 22, 2017, with mention of SABR member Craig Brown:
The legacy of Moses “Fleet” Fleetwood Walker as the first African-American to play professional baseball is changing the narrative of sports history.
Born in Mount Pleasant, Ohio, and raised in Steubenville near the Ohio-West Virginia border, Walker played catcher during the 1884 season for the Toledo Blue Stockings of the American Association, which competed with the National League. Although Jackie Robinson is widely recognized as the first African-American to play in the Major Leagues, Walker is acknowledged by historians at the National Baseball Hall of Fame to actually be the first, six decades before Robinson suited up for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947.
Robinson’s story of enduring racism and overcoming prejudice to become one of baseball’s all-time greats was accomplished amid great personal sacrifice during a period of upheaval in the United States when African-Americans were seeking equality with whites in education, housing, voting, and basic human rights. He was voted to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962 and died 10 years later at age 53.
Walker, who was 67 when he died in 1924, was born during a turbulent time when slavery was still a fixture in American society. Growing up as a free man, he overcame insurmountable odds and broke into professional baseball 19 years after the end of the Civil War. He played in the minor leagues until 1889, when baseball enforced a color barrier that remained in place until Robinson’s arrival.
Originally published: February 22, 2017. Last Updated: February 22, 2017.