Major League Baseballs color barrier has long been claimed to have been broken by Jackie Robinson. However, without denigration to the story of ole 42, there may be an even more amazing story to be told that predates Jackie Robinson by over 60 years.
For years before 1947 there were colored ball players who made money to play the game of baseball. Many passed themselves off as Hispanic or Latino of some decent and never played above the minor league levels. There is some evidence that in 1879, William Edward White, may have played a single MLB game substituting for an injured player on the Providence Grays.
However the most amazing story may be that of Moses Fleetwood Walker. Historians are of no dispute that Walker, and his brother Weldy, played Major League Baseball. For 42 games in the 1884 season Fleetwood was a participant of the Toledo Blue Stockings of the American Association.
For those not familiar with the AA it was a league considered to be a “Major League at the time.” Several teams from the AA joined the National League upon the league’s disbanding in 1891. Today the Reds, Pirates, Cardinals and Dodgers all remain MLB clubs today that began play in the AA.
Fleetwood was a catcher and was well regarded defensively. However, due to his race some pitchers would refuse to throw the pitch Walker called for. This led to many pass ball errors being charged to Walker. In addition to the errors the unknown break of the ball caused much toll on Walker as he was oft injured from balls striking his body.
For Toledo, 1884 would be their only season as a Major League team. They left the league at the end of the 1884 season and the team disbanded following an 1885 year back in the minors. After the 1884 season the Major Leagues put a ban on color players. Walker saw himself bounce around in the minor leagues for a few more seasons and finally hung ‘em up in 1889.
Following his retirement from baseball Walker had a pretty unusual twilight for an African American of that time period. In 1891 he invented and patented an exploding artillery shell and in the same year purchased the Union Hotel in Steubenville, OH and a silent film theatre in the nearby town of Cadiz.
Mr. Walker’s incredible life did not brake there however. Still in 1891 Fleetwood claimed to have been attacked in Syracuse, NY by a white man. Walker stabbed his attacker in his giblets and saw the man, Patrick Murray, bleed to death. Walker then was able to escape an approaching mob until he was arrested and charged with second degree murder. Facing an all-white jury at the time Walker was acquitted of the charge and freed, returning to Ohio somewhat of a hero.
Walker then became a supporter of Black Nationalism and believed that segregation in America would fail. In 1908 he published Our Home Colony: A Treatise on the Past, Present, and Future of the Negro Race in America. The contents being a 47 page short that encouraged blacks to return to Africa.
It is worth noting as well that Walker’s brother Weldy, (pictured below) had also become a support of Black Nationalism, penned open letters on racism and won a civil rights lawsuit on racial discrimination against an Ohio bowling alley owner who refused his admittance. In 1898 Weldy assisted Fleetwood with the operation of the Union Hotel after Fleetwood had been convicted and sentenced to one year in prison for stealing the contents of registered mail. Weldy had many successful business ventures in his own right that included owning an oyster and fish store, running a black issues newspaper with Fleetwood called, The Equator, and operating as a bootlegger during prohibition.
The brothers lived until 1924 for Fleetwood and 1937 for Weldy, having never known the name Jackie Robinson and sadly being overlooked and largely forgotten as a part of baseball history.