First Black Major League Player? It Wasn’t Jackie Robinson. And The Story is Heartbreaking

Moses Fleetwood Walker

Pop quiz! Who was the first black major league baseball player?

If you said Jackie Robinson, you’re wrong.

More than half-a-century before Robinson desegregated Major League Baseball with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Moses Fleetwood Walker broke the color barrier in professional baseball with the Toledo Blue Stockings in 1884. Known by most at “Fleet,” he played at the highest level of the sport among white players in a time not long after the Civil War. Like Robinson, he was the target of cruel and overt racism when he took the field. But unlike Robinson, his story didn’t end with a new era of racial progress in the sport. Instead, historians say it helped usher in a new era of racial segregation in baseball.

A manager at the time by the name of Cap Anson made a promise that he would never play a game with a black player on the field. Walker and a black teammate were benched with Anson and his Chicago White Stockings came to town.

(Anson) made good on his threat and he made it happen. And that very day, the International League passed a measure that banned further contracts with black players,” Toledo Mud Hens Team Historian John Husman tells Detroit Today host Stephen Henderson.

Walker had a strong local connection, says Husman, having played for the University of Michigan’s baseball team before his professional career began.

Henderson also speaks with Mark Palmer, who’s great grandmother was Fleet Walker’s sister, about how Walker’s story affect him and his family to this day.

Click on the audio player above to hear the full conversation on Detroit Today.

Image credit: Moses Fleetwood Walker

About the Author

Detroit Today

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