Why was Moses Fleetwood Walker important?

Moses Fleetwood Walker (1857–1924), or “Fleet” Walker, as he was popularly known, became one of the first African Americans to play white intercollegiate baseball in 1881, when he was a catcher on Oberlin College’s varsity team. His baseball career took him to the Toledo Blue Stockings in 1884, where he became the first African-American major leaguer. He felt the sting of racism throughout his baseball career, as racial antipathy and segregation flourished in the late 1800s. In 1887 only seven black players were in the league. Racist taunts, jeers, and threats were commonplace to Walker. The Chicago White Stockings’ manager refused to plan an exhibition game in 1883 if Walker and another African-American player, George Washington Stovey, were allowed to play. The men were barred from the field, and on that same day the league voted to deny contracts with black players. Although Walker was never more than a mediocre player, he refused to extend his career by joining all-black teams that invited him to play. Walker, a mulatto, was born to racially mixed parents in Mount Pleasant, Ohio, grew up in Steubenville, and attended Oberlin College. His complexion was fair enough to allow him to move with ease in the white society that he seemed to favor later on, yet his race was well-known in the baseball world. In his 1908 booklet, Our Home Colony: The Past, Present, and Future of the Negro Race, he rejected racial mixing and called for African repatriation. In 1904 he purchased the Cadiz opera house in Steubenville and offered live entertainment and movies to a mostly white clientele. Blacks who attended were seated in the balcony. Although Walker remained bitter because of his treatment in baseball, he continued to mix with whites and to live in white communities.


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