Jackie Robinson’s historic barrier-breaking feat celebrated its 70th anniversary last week, but a pair of forgotten Black baseball players might have some right to Number 42’s historic claim. William Edward White and Moses Fleetwood Walker are credited as players who integrated the MLB many years before Robinson.
Very little is known about White but what has been written is that he was born around 1860 in Georgia and was a mixed man who passed for white. Historians discovered that White was a student and baseball player at Brown University, and played just one game for a National League team. The National League eventually merged with other pro leagues of the time to form the official MLB in 1903.
White played on June 21, 1879 for the NL’s Providence Grays. He was a substitute player and even managed to score a run in the contest. However, White was never heard from again and efforts to track his movements after the game proved difficult. Because of his ability to pass, White’s records have been largely jumbled over the years. Although it is difficult to confirm, White relocated to Chicago and became a bookkeeper before disappearing from the record books.
Walker was a minor league player who managed to land a spot on the American Association’s Toledo Blue Stockings squad. He made his debut for the Ohio team on May 1, 1884 and played just one season before injuries got him cut from the team. He returned to the minor leagues until 1889 and left baseball to begin a newspaper with his brother, Weldy Walker, the second Black player to join the AA. The AA was a major league that later merged with the NL.
Before the pros, Walker and his brother were college players at Oberlin College starring for the team’s first varsity baseball team. Walker then moved on to play for the University of Michigan men’s squad. Like White, Walker was also a mixed man, but never denied his Black heritage.
In 1908, Walker published a book, “Our Home Colony,” which examined the idea of returning back to Africa. Walker died in Ohio in May 1924 at the age of 67.
Many baseball historians say Walker deserves the credit that commonly goes to Robinson, although technically the MLB, as it was known after the turn of the 20th century, came years after his playing days.