The Real First Black Man to Play Major League Baseball


The great Jackie Robinson accomplished an
amazing amount in his lifetime both on and off the field. Despite all the adversity and pressure he
experienced, he somehow managed to put up legitimate Hall of Fame numbers doing what
is often described as the hardest thing in all of sports- hitting a round ball with a
thin round stick. One thing that he didn’t do, something that’s
often credited to him, was become the first African American person to play in the Major
Leagues. That was something that had been done at least
three times before Robinson made his historic Major League debut on April 15, 1947. Now if you happen to be a trivia buff and
knew that already, odds are you think the first was actually Moses Fleetwood Walker,
the second was his brother Weldy Walker, and you’re probably scratching your head trying
to come up with the third. It turns out, that’s probably not correct
either, although the verdict is still slightly out on the matter (being a very recent discovery). The real first African American to play in
the major leagues, and the only former slave to do so, is now generally thought to be a
man by the name of William Edward White. Eighteen year old White, who at the time was
a student at Brown, replaced an injured Joe Start in one single game in the Majors, playing
for the National League Providence Grays on June 21, 1879. This was five years before Fleetwood Walker
would make his Major League debut. In that game, White went 1 for 4 and scored
a run in a game the Grays won 5 to 3. While not a lot is known about White, what
is known is that he officially claimed he himself was “white” and not of African
heritage (his skin color apparently being light enough to pass as such). This is why up until very recently he wasn’t
given credit for being the first African American to play in the Majors, with that honor going
to Moses Fleetwood Walker. This all changed when members of the Society
for American Baseball Research, more commonly known as “SABR”, uncovered the fact that,
according to an 1870 U.S. census, White’s mother was a woman named Hannah White, one
of the 70 slaves owned by the person William White listed as his father according to Brown
University’s records- Andrew Jackson White. Hannah’s other two children also appear
to have been fathered by Andrew Jackson White. A.J. White also left the bulk of his estate to
Hannah’s three children when he died, including William White, though he only acknowledged
them as “the children of my servant Hannah”, rather than his own children. In the context of solving the mystery of whether
William White was the first African American to play in the Majors, the important bit in
the Will is that he named William the child of Hannah, which backs up what the U.S. census
stated. Thus, with the evidence at hand so far, it
appears William White was the first African American to play in the Majors. As to why he never played again after that
game, it isn’t known, but of course speculation is that his heritage was discovered, though
it may have simply been that a better player was in the wings, as his replacement was future
Hall of Famer Jim O’Rourke. Whatever the case, the person long considered
to have been the first African American to play in the Majors was, as mentioned, Moses
Fleetwood Walker. Walker made his Major League debut on May
1, 1884 playing for the Toledo Blue Stockings against the Louisville Eclipse. He had been playing for the then minor league
Blue Stockings when the team was added to the American Association, which later became
the American League. By all accounts, Walker was no less of an
amazing player than the great Jackie Robinson, and is deserving of a lot of credit for what
he went through during his time in the Majors. How good was he? Let’s just qualify the stats with the fact
that Walker was a catcher… who caught without a glove or any other major protection, as
was common at the time. Needless to say, catchers of the day were
incredibly injury prone and rarely did well offensively because of the beating they took
behind the plate. Walker had it worse than most because many
of the pitchers didn’t want to let a black man ostensibly tell them what to do by calling
the pitches. As one pitcher, Tony Mullane, stated: [Walker] was the best catcher I ever worked
with, but I disliked [the] Negro and whenever I had to pitch to him I used to pitch anything
I wanted without looking at his signals. As a result, Walker was in the unenviable
position of crouching behind the plate attempting to catch baseballs with no protective gear
nor glove and not knowing the location nor what pitch was going to be thrown. Despite this, in his 42 games played in the
Majors, he batted .263 (some accounts claim .264). Now that might not sound impressive, but you
should consider the fact that this was well above average in his day- the rest of his
team combined for an average of just .231 with the league average just .240 the season
he played. Further, as catchers took an incredible beating
(and still do today, though to a drastically lesser extent), most catchers typically batted
between .100-.200 in his day. He was so good with his bat, that when he
was too beat up to catch, they’d typically put him in the outfield so as not to lose
his offensive production. He also had to overcome the same type of obstacles
as Jackie Robinson, including death threats, constant personal and physical attacks, and
certain players refusing to play if Walker was allowed on the field, such as future Hall
of Famer Adrian “Cap” Anson (the first major leaguer to accumulate more than 3,000
hits, finishing with 3,481). In fact, Fleetwood Walker’s brother, Weldy
Walker, who also played in the Majors (5 games), blamed Anson for the banning of African American
players in the Minor and Major leagues in the first place. (In truth, Anson’s despicable antics probably
didn’t have nearly that much to do with it, though Anson was quite vocal about his
opinions on the matter and not shy at all about trying to pressure others into advocating
for the same stance.) For instance, in Anson’s first encounter
with Walker, Walker was supposed to have the day off, but when manager Charlie Morton heard
that Anson and his team, the White Stockings, were refusing to play if Walker was allowed
on the field, he put Walker in the lineup and told Anson that not only would they be
forfeiting the game if they refused to play, but they’d also forfeit the money from ticket
sales. Once money was brought into it, Anson and
the White Stockings begrudgingly agreed to play. After being injured to the point where he
couldn’t bat, Fleetwood Walker’s Major League career ended up being over. Once he was healed up, he continued his career
in the minors (which in 1887 boasted 13 African Americans despite rampant segregation). He also played in a few other leagues before
finally both the National League and the American Association decided on their “gentleman’s
agreement” to not sign any African American player, with that decision trickling down
to other leagues that had not already instituted similar bans. Robbed of the ability to play in the American
and National Leagues as well as most others of any note at the time, Fleetwood Walker
left baseball, as his brother also later did after playing and managing in a Negro league
that ultimately failed. The two went on to various business ventures,
at which they were seemingly quite successful, such as owning an operating a hotel, a movie
theater, as well as a series of restaurants. Fleetwood Walker even attempted to get patents
on a few different pieces of equipment he invented for showing “moving pictures”;
he also held a patent for a certain type of exploding artillery shell. The two also became involved in politics with
Weldy Walker serving on the Executive Committee of the Negro Protective Party, which was formed
in response to the government turning a blind eye on the frequent lynchings that occurred
at the time. The two also owned and operated the newspaper,
The Equator. I’ll close this with an excerpt from an
open letter from Weldy Walker to the President of the Tri-State League published in The Sporting
Life on March 14, 1888, after African Americans were officially banned from playing in those
leagues when a law permitting them to be signed was repealed by the league: …It is not because I was reserved and have
been denied making my bread and butter with some club that I speak; but it is in hopes
that the action taken at your last meeting will be called up for reconsideration at your
next. The law is disgrace to the present age, and
reflects very much upon the intelligence of your last meeting, and casts derision at the
laws of Ohio- the voice of the people- that say all men are equal. I would suggest that your honorable body,
in case that black law is not repealed, pass one making it criminal for a colored man or
woman to be found in a ball ground. There is now the same accommodation made for
the colored patron of the game as the white, and the same provision and dispensation is
made of the money of them both that finds its way into the coffers of the various clubs. There should be some broader cause–such
as want of ability, behavior, and intelligence–for barring a player than his color. It is for these reasons and because I think
ability and intelligence should be recognized first and last–at all times and by everyone–I
ask the question again, why was the “law permitting colored men to sign repealed, etc.?” Yours truly, Weldy W. Walker While on the whole the Walker brothers did
quite well for themselves financially in their lives after baseball, particularly considering
the racial obstacles they had to deal with at the time, Fleetwood Walker was once attacked
by a group of white men. During the ensuing melee, Walker killed one
of the men, Patrick Murray. The remaining attackers attempted to kill
Walker, but he escaped, though was later arrested and imprisoned. Somewhat surprisingly given attitudes at the
time, on June 3, 1891 at the conclusion of his trial, a jury of all white men acquitted Walker on all charges.

93 thoughts on “The Real First Black Man to Play Major League Baseball

  1. Make a video on this.Why is it so cheap to send things from China to the United States. I can order something for 77 cents and it will have free shipping.

  2. I was born a poor black child. I remember the days, sittin' on the porch with my family, singin' and dancin' down in Mississippi

  3. This channel is starting to become a bit too US centric for my taste. Don't forget; the majority of youtube viewers are not from the US.

  4. I'm just curious, why do Americans (or British in the case of this channel) consider someone black if he's half black, even though he's also half white at the same time?

  5. A black man named White attended a school named brown and played for a team named Gray. Certainly sounds like he lead a colourful life.

  6. Now, you may not know this, but in some states, just one drop of so-called black blood makes you completely black. So than who was the first so-called black person in baseball. 🙂

  7. since the person in question did not identify himself as a black person he is not in fact the first real black person to play Major League Baseball. Instead, he is like Obama. A person who shares some black blood but decided to identify with his white mother or father but other white people are trying to force him into I-10 to find solely as black. This very video is a great example of the nonsense of our being in a "post-racial" America. if we truly were post-racial and if race did not in fact matter than any person of half white blood would be able to call themselves white. Any person of half asian blood would be able to call themselves Asian. It would not matter what they were if they wanted to solely identify with the heritage of the mother only.

  8. I would dearly love to see you delve into the race subject, fearlessly explaining that there is no such thing as race, just regional adaptations.

    Keep up the fine work sire.

  9. The way Robinson's achievement is usually put is that he "broke the color barrier." That is undoubtedly true. In spite of a handful of others, there had been none in the modern era and the barrier was still very much in effect until Robinson.

    But with family in Toledo, I have certainly heard that part of the story told proudly before.

  10. C'mon Simon, this is America where boys can be girls, girls can be cats, Bill Clinton was the first black president, all because we wish it to be so. Let the man be whoever he wanted to be. Obv. jk Nice episode.

  11. Robinson is now more commonly credited with breaking the color barrier in baseball than being the actual first African American to play in the majors. Others may have played before him but he was the one who stuck and affected lasting change.

  12. And as always, great video! So… when are you going to do anything on your vlog channel? I just caught your "bald" video and as a bald hairy man myself, I so appreciated it. Man, that was hilarious. You should do more like that.

  13. Until know and u Stayed during the credits I realised it's just a group of three really so good job I always thought it was a small channel up front then it has a big budget and everything in the background

  14. I have one small correction: The American Association existed from 1882 to 1891. It was generally considered inferior to the National League and several clubs defected from it to join the more prestigious NL (including the Cincinnati Reds, Brooklyn Dodgers, Pittsburgh Pirates, and St. Louis Cardinals.) The AA went out of business after the 1891 season. The American League is an outgrowth of a minor league called the Western League. League president Ban Johnson moved clubs to large eastern cities and lured NL players to his league with larger salaries than NL clubs were offering. The AL has nothing to do with the AA.

  15. It's late and I have an odd sense of humor but I got a hearty belly laugh thinking about this headline: Black White swings for Brown Grays

  16. I love that the white stockings were so strong in their convictions about not playing on an integrated field… until money and win averages came into it. Its almost as if racism and self-interested cowardice go hand in hand.

  17. I don't have any interest in baseball but somehow have heard the name Weldy Walker somewhere. I guess because I think the name Weldy is so unusual it stuck in my head unconnected to any information.
    Everyone, please watch my little nature videos. There is no talking in them. Shhh!

  18. So just to clarify, the real first black man to play pro baseball was actually White…William White. He attended Brown and played for the Gray's. And during this time racism was SO rampant that people actually still "owned" slaves…and he never took a knee during the national anthem?!?

    Did I get all that correct?

  19. this channel should do a video about the history and founding of the African country of Liberia (which I'm not even gonna start to describe because I wanna see your video about it); a lot of people in the northern hemisphere and the developed world in general aren't even very much aware of it's existence apart from a name on a coastline on a globe or Mercator projection somewhere, but it ties in nicely with the last bit about the Walker brothers' political views described at the end of this video

  20. What was the orgin of people putting white crosses on the side of roads where someone has passed away due to a traffic accident?

  21. Simon Whistler is incorrect on two separate instances in this video. First, he said that Jackie Robinson is credited with being the first Black man to play in the Major Leagues. Jackie Robinson is credited with breaking color line, or integrating the game. Second, Whistler basically said that the American Association and the American League are the same league, they just have different names. This is not true. The American Association went out of business around ten or 15 years before the American League was created. The American League had different teams, owners, administrators, and players.

  22. Many people of that era both black and white advocated for a back to Africa policy, we have to remember that this is long before the civil rights movement got it's start.

  23. This is very pedantic. Robinson broke the color barrier, the so-called gentlemens' agreement. Even were it otherwise, a one-day-only replacement on a team in the NL's infancy is nothing but a gotcha answer that completely misses the point.

    And by the way, the American Association did not become the American League. It went defunct in the 1890s.

  24. FBI Special Agent Mulder already covered this story in one of his docudrama's several years ago, where it was revealed he was an alien.

  25. of course there was someone prior to Jackie Robinson. That's why the ban happened. Whites saw how good the black players were and knew they couldn't compete. There were plenty of black jockeys, but they won too much and things were segregated. Boxing? Same thing. Football? Basketball? There is an obvious pattern.

  26. does anyone else watch these in a different way since seeing the behind the scenes episode?

    It's kinda cool, helps you appreciate the videos more thoroughly

  27. Great video! However, Fleetwood was actually the LAST black professional baseball player before the "gentleman's agreement" to not sign black players happened. Bud Fowler played in 1872. (SOURCE) —> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bud_Fowler

  28. Now that you know the truth about the first black man to play in the major leagues check out this video and find out The Origin of Nachos and How Football Helped Popularize Them Surprisingly Recently:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2BdK8d4TH8o

  29. yea william edward white who dressed like a white person and had white hair surely should be complemented over a dude named jackie robinson who had black hair and dressed how he wanted

  30. This is GREAT information! Thanks so much for this video. I had read info about the Walker brothers as well as William White but did not know all of these details. Thanks again for posting!

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