On Monday, April 15th, 2019 we celebrated Jackie Robinson Day – a day to celebrate Robinson’s major league debut on Opening Day 1947.
Most of us believe we celebrate this day because Robinson was the “first black major league baseball player” but that isn’t factual and we can’t even agree on who that honor actually goes to. There is no doubt about the impact Jackie Robinson made or how he alter history. He should be remembered for not only being an amazing baseball player but for standing up to hatred, racism and bigotry and doing what he loved- for himself and society.
Nothing should minimize that honor- however- he wasn’t the first black major league baseball player and there are a couple other guys who deserve to be remembered and honored just as much as Robinson- William Edward White, Moses Fleetwood Walker and Weldy Walker.
When you do a Google search for “first African American baseball player” you get a little paragraph about Jackie Robinson and that isn’t exactly fair to those other three men and it’s not factual. It all depends on how it’s worded but, in general, most of us simply believe what we’ve been told.
While Jackie Robinson was the “first black player to play in the MLB (major league baseball) of the modern er” he was not the “first black player to play in major league baseball”- and I understand how confusing that sounds. (This does not include the “National” or “American” Negro Leagues.)
Most people consider 1900 to be the beginning of the “modern era” of major league baseball and it’s true that between 1900 and 1947- no African American played but there were THREE before the 1900s and we shouldn’t forget them. We can’t just start history fresh at 1900 and forget everything that happened prior.
Moses Fleetwood Walker played in the major leagues for one season- 63 years before Jackie Robinson made his debut (1884). Walker was open about his African American heritage and often faced the same (if not more) racial bigotry that Robinson faced. Walker’s brother, Weldy Walker became the next African American player later in the same year- with the same team as his brother.
This is where it gets a bit tricky- William Edward White, who was half African American, made his debut as a substitute in one major league baseball game on June 21, 1879- 5 years before Moses Walker (and 68 years before Robinson). This would technically mean that William White was the first African American player but there is a huge difference- William White was very light skinned and passed as Caucasian- he lived as a “white” man and was not open about his African American heritage- so he didn’t face the racism and bigotry as the other guys who are in consideration.
While William White lived as a “white” man- records show he was the son of a plantation owner and his African American slave. White was listed as “white” on the 1900 and 1910 census but changed that to “black” on the 1920 census. He was listed as a “slave” prior to that and could also be considered the first and only slave to ever play in a major league game.
All of this would actually make Jackie Robinson the fourth African American to play major league baseball but should we consider William Edward White or Moses Fleetwood Walker the actual first? In my opinion- that honor should be giving to Walker- he was the first African American who was open about his heritage and endured the racism and bigotry.
Even though he only played one season and another African American didn’t play until 63 years later- he was still the first and should be recognized as such; while Jackie Robinson really broke that barrier and held the door open for so many future players- that door was unlocked by Moses Fleetwood Walker.
Love, Peace and Sharkyness