September 10, 2002 8:07 AM   Subscribe

Moses Fleetwood Walker. The first African-American to play in the Major Leagues preceded Jackie Robinson by 64 years.
posted by putzface_dickman (7 comments total)
black players did play in the 1800s; the practice was abandoned (de facto) by baseball clubs on account of Cap Anson, the then player-manager of the chicago white stockings. Anson refused to play with any black player, and all other teams followed suit until Robinson came to the major leagues. Cap Anson was such a good player for the white stockings that, when he left the team, they were renamed the Orphans (for they'd lost their Cap) before finally changing their name to its current form: the cubs.
posted by moz at 8:38 AM on September 10, 2002

Excellent links, p_d. Particularly since most of the "official" history of the International League has been sanitized.

It's important to remember how intimidated "regular" baseball was of the Negro Leagues' growing popularity and the effect they were having on the game as a whole.

To this day, former Indianapolis Clowns player and major league hall of famer Henry Aaron still has a box filled with threatening letters from fans and players alike from his transition across the color barrier.
posted by Smart Dalek at 8:41 AM on September 10, 2002

Wow, that's cool. I had no idea that there were black MLB players before Jackie Robinson. Sometimes I guess you assume that the way things are is the way things've always been, and that's even more true for ways that have been (are being) painfully, slowly left behind.

Every now and again I get a glimpse of a polyglot pre-WWII America which reminds me of the America my Dad taught me I lived in, where nobody was really especially tolerant of anybody else's race, creed, color or religion, but at the same time hadn't necessarily decided that there could only be one way...
posted by hob at 8:52 AM on September 10, 2002

An important factor in the change in tenor was the Great Black Migration of ca. 1900-1920, as generational turnover since Reconstruction left many sharecropper descendants without opportunity, which they sought instead in the cities of the industrial north. This correspondingly led to a reversal of northern tolerance to northern segregation; even today, Detroit and Chicago are America's most physically segregated cities. (Ten years ago, I could stand on a Loop platform and watch one train fill up with 90% blacks, southbound, and another fill up with 60% whites, northbound.) This was a period of the founding of black institutions in the North, such as hospitals and schools (often with the support of white liberals); after WWII many of them were absorbed and faded out of view and memory. But in the instance, segregation was seen as an appropriate, humane response to the problem of providing these services. (By way of example of how informal and contradictory these situations could be, the hospital here in Evanston would admit black patients -- but the medical committee would not permit black doctors privileges. Hence a Colored Hospital was started, which also accepted both black and white patients. Charlton Heston was born there.)
posted by dhartung at 10:20 AM on September 10, 2002

Just proves (once again) how stupid racism and those that choose to practice it are. Nothing angers me more than the loss of all that potential..."Greatest Nation On Earth?" maybe someday.
posted by black8 at 10:44 AM on September 10, 2002

(Ten years ago, I could stand on a Loop platform and watch one train fill up with 90% blacks, southbound, and another fill up with 60% whites, northbound.)

I lived in the Wrigley Field neighborhood of Chicago (north of downtown) about 7 years ago. After one of my earliest explorations of they city, I mistakenly boarded a southbound train in the Loop. I rode through 3 stops, unaware that I had a made an error. After the third stop, a black woman in the seat across from me leaned into the aisle and said "Honey, I think you're on the wrong train." She got off with me at the next stop, and showed me how to switch to a northbound train.

Why didn't I notice that I was the only white person on the train? I'd like to say it was the result of my highly developed consciousness, which enables me to see my fellow man without regard for the color of his skin, but I'd wager that complete cluelessness is a better choice.
posted by donnagirl at 11:29 AM on September 10, 2002

It's a bit of an oversimplification to say that Walker played in the "major leagues." He played for the American Association, a league important in the formative years of professional baseball, which nevertheless shut down after seven years. The idea of a "major" or "minor" league was still pretty ambiguous, if the terms were even used at all.

It might seem like a semantic technicality, but I think it matters, because we're talking about a time before American professional baseball was the highly organized institution that it is today, long before there was a commissioner of the sport, and certainly before baseball itself was seen as an institution that would allow or not allow black men to play.
posted by bingo at 3:28 PM on September 10, 2002

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