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April 20, 1999 - Image 24

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The Michigan Daily, 1999-04-20

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24 - The Michigan Daily - Tuesday, April 20, 1999
A black baseball player before his time, Moses Fleetwood Walker's attempt to break the sport's color barrier was just ...

A Fleeting

mbition

Maybe Moses and Caroline Walker
had a peek into the future when they
named their third son back in 1857.
Moses Fleetwood Walker.
Moses: The Biblical leader who
brought his people to the promised land,
a man of faith who rebelled against the
establishment for what he knew was
right.
Fleetwood: quick as lightning, strong
and hard as hickory, the perfect nick-
name for an athlete - and no sport lends
itself to nicknames quite like baseball -
given to him before he was old enough to
walk.
During his lifetime, Walker, an
African American, would try first to be
the Moses of black baseball, bringing his
people to the Promised Land known as
the Major Leagues, then the Moses of
the black race, offering a solution to
America's race problem.
He would have his share of successes
- he was Michigan's first black athlete
and was the first ofjust two black Major
Leaguers before Jackie Robinson - and
more than his share of failures. But when
all was said and done, Walker would end
his life a bitter and disillusioned man,
unsure of himself and his place in the
society that created him.
"The only practical and permanent
solution of the present and future race
troubles in the United States is entire
separation by Emigration of the Negro
from America," Walker wrote in 1908.
"Even forced Emigration would be bet-
ter for all than the continued present rela-
tions of the races."
EARLY INNINGS
Moses Fleetwood Walker was barely a
child when baseball spread across the
country. It was the early 1860s and the
Civil War was tearing the country in two.
And the soldiers played baseball.
Prior to the war, baseball was con-
fined to the New York area, near the
Elysian Fields, where the earliest-known
baseball game took place.
When the war broke out, New York-
area soldiers taught the game to others in
their platoons. Soon, baseball games
were one of the most common sights in
camps of both Union and Confederate
soldiers. And as the war spread across
the nation, so did baseball.

tor to say that he didn't want blacks in his
department, as Fielding Yost would do at
the end of the 19th Century and through
the first quarter of the 20th. The players
wanted Walker - they didn't care that
he was black - so all he had to do was
transfer, and Michigan would have its
first black athlete.
Transferring was commonplace
among athletes at the time. There were
no rules governing eligibility yet - the
NCAA was nonexistent - and athletes
would frequently transfer several times.
But did Walker want to transfer?
There is no question that he liked
Oberlin, and he valued the experience he
was getting. More than 20 years later, in
an Oberlin alumni survey, there was a
question asking what he felt about his
Oberlin experience. His response? One
word, underlined - "excellent."
So what would convince Walker to
abandon Oberlin, without a degree, for
Michigan?
The answer appears to be pretty sim-
ple - Walker fell in love. Despite being
known as a liberal college, Oberlin had
strict rules governing male-female rela-
tionships.
The summer before Walker enroled
in the Michigan law school, his girl-
friend, Arabella Taylor, became preg-
nant. At Oberlin, an out-of-wedlock
pregnancy would surely be frowned
upon. So Walker and Taylor decided to
move to Michigan.
Upon arriving in Ann Arbor, Walker
ran into a major problem. After starting
to take classes, the University's President
James Angell ordered him to stop.
Apparently, Walker cheated at Oberlin.
His papers from Oberlin said that he
"at one time did not state the exact facts
or did not wholly keep his promise
respecting his preparation for a certain
examination."
Angell sent a letter to his Oberlin
counterpart, James Harris Fairchild, ask-
ing for an assessment of "the general
character of the young man ..."
Whether or not Angell's letter was
racially-motivated is unknown - the
only mention of Walker's skin color in
the letter was the word 'colored' in
parentheses after Walker's name.
Regardless, Walker was in limbo.
Shortly after receiving Angell's letter,

BY JOSH KLEINBAUM l DAILY SPORTS EDITOR

At Oberlin, his grades dropped and his
absences increased each successive year.
Baseball took up all of his time.
There is no reason to think that
Walker's focus was any different at
Michigan. He was not interested in pur-
suing a career in law; he wanted to be a
professional baseball player.
'A WONDER'
For the Michigan baseball team,
Walker was the missing link, the final
piece of the puzzle that would make
Michigan great. At least, that's what the
players thought, and they wanted the
whole campus to know it.
They did not want the whole campus
to know that Walker was black.
In late 1881 and early 1882, before the
baseball season began, Packard wrote

1882. "It will present to us a chance of
seeing games in which there is some-
thing at stake, namely, the reputation of
our University which ought to be of uni-
versal interest"
In the past, baseball games were just
nine men playing nine other men. Now,
with the formation of the league, the nine
men represented the University.
Including Walker, a black man.
Michigan won the first Western
Baseball League title, and Walker was
much the reason why. He was strong at
the plate and even stronger behind it,
despite the fact that, typical of catchers
then, he didn't even use a glove, let alone
a face mask and chest protector.
Every article in The Chronicle on the
baseball team that season raved about
Walker's skill.

sworn to mob Walker if he comes on the
ground in a suit, the letter said. "We
hope you will listen to our words of
warning, so that there will be no trouble;
but if you do not there certainly will be.
We only write this to prevent much
bloodshed, as you alone can prevent."
Whether there really was a lynch mob
is unknown. Walker suffered an injury
before the trip to Richmond and did not
travel with the team.
In 1887, Walker was playing for a
Newark team in the International
League, along with the great black pitch-
er George Stovey, when they were sched-
uled to play the Chicago White
Stockings of the National League. The
White Stockings were managed by Cap
Anson, a famed player, manager - and
racist. Anson demanded that the two
blacks not play, and the Newark team
complied.
That same day, at an International

sneak past the well-heeled manners and
handsome face and ignite the temper, he
lost a treasured and cultivated ally.
"Anger reduced Fleet Walker's charac-
ter to ashes?'

0

>f

z .
~- Al

A CHANGE OF HEART
After the trial, Walker returned to
Steubenville and reunited with his broth-
er, Weldy. The two opened a hotel, then
owned and managed several movie the-
aters. Fleet used his motion picture
knowledge and patented a handful of
inventions having to do with the motion
picture industry.
By this point in his life, Walker had
developed a strong view on race rela-
tions in America. He felt that blacks
could not be successful in America, that
racism was an inherent and unavoidable
human trait. Well before Marcus Garvey
made the idea famous, Walker argued for
the separation of the races. After a life-
time of attempting integration, he decid-
ed blacks should emigrate to Africa and
start a new nation.
In 1902, Walker started the first of two
ventures to spread his ideas. With Weldy
at his side, he published a black-issues
oriented newspaper called The Equator.
No copies of the paper survived time.
His second project was "Our Home
Colony," a 47-page book in which
Walker outlined his idea of separation of
the races.
"The Negro race will be a menace and
the source of discontent as long as it
remains in large numbers in the United
States;" Walker wrote. "The time is
growing very near when the whites of
the United States must either settle this
problem by deportation, or else be will-
ing to accept a reign of terror such as the
world has never seen in a civilized coun-
try.
Walker died on May 11, 1924 of pneu-
monia at the age of 67. He left behind an
amazing and sometimes disturbing lega-
cy.
He was the first black Michigan a-h-
lete and the first black major league
baseball player.
But he faced hatred and racism
throughout his life, spawning a hatred of
the society that he lived in.
Walker tried to be the Moses of black
baseball. Instead, Jackie Robinsoin
accomplished that feat 23 years after
Walker's death.
Moses Fleetwood Walker was driven
by an ambition to integrate baseball, but
his experiences and failures convinced
him that integration was anything but the
answer.
Racis-m in
Louisville e

Phnoto courtesy of Bentley Historical Library
In this photo of the 1882 Michigan baseball team, Moses Fleetwood Walker is seated in the front row, third from the right.
Walker's friend and teammate Arthur Packard is seated next to Walker, to his right.

One town it hit was Steubenville, Fairchild got one from Walker's friend two articles that appeared in The "Many doubts had been expressed
Ohio, on the Ohio river in the eastern and pitcher, Arthur Packard, his fellow Chronicle, the student newspaper at the previous to the game, as to the strength
part of the state. Built on manufacturing transfer. time, about the baseball team. In both, he of our nine, but they are now all dissipat-
and coal mining, Steubenville was Walker "is almost hopeless and thor- said that Michigan's baseball team would ed. Walker, as catcher, did some of the
known for being racially tolerant. That's oughly downhearted," Packard wrote. be good, and it was because of Walker. finest work behind the bat that has ever
why the elder Moses Walker moved his "This affair has had a very deep effect on He did not mention the catcher's skin been witnessed in Ann Arbor" the paper
family there from Mount Pleasant, Ohio, Mr. Walker and I know he will be very color. wrote on April 29, 1883, after a loss to a
in 1860. grateful if you will do something for "All the steps have been taken to Detroit professional team.
As in many towns in the late 1860s him." secure such a nine and we firmly believe "Walker's catching cannot be too
and early '70s, Steubenville's youth Normally, a letter from a student that we will have one in the spring that highly commended, and the general ver-
played a lot of baseball. It was there shouldn't carry too much weight with a will do honor to our University,' Packard dict is, that the man is a wonder" the
Walkeriirst played the game that would university president when making a wrote in The Chronicle on Dec. 17, paper wrote on May 27, 1882, after a
take over his life. character assessment. But Packard was- 1881. "The weak point in our nine has victory over Wisconsin. "... With two
In 1877, Walker enrolled in Oberlin n't any student. His father, Jasper for some years been in our catcher. This men out and two on bases, Walker came
College, one of the first integrated col- Packard, was a noted Civil War general will no longer be the case. We will have to the bat. With two strikes called and the
leges in the country. The college's and United States Congressman, some- one in the spring who is second to no crowd in great suspense, the 'wonder'
African American enrollment was thing that likely weighed on Fairchild's amateur catcher in the country. By many struck the ball square in the face for the
between 5 and 10 percent, a figure larg- mind when he replied to Angell. he is considered the equal of most most beautiful home run seen on the
er than many universities today and near- There is no record of Fairchild's of the League catchers." grounds this year."
ly unheard of in the 1870s. It had been a response, but Walker did enroll in A month later, Michigan, The Chronicle frequently said that the
major stop on the Underground Railroad classes. Whether or not he along with Northwestern, fans took well to Walker, and there is no
and had been admitting black students attended them is a differ- Wisconsin and Racine, documented evidence of any racism in
since 1834. ent matter. formed the Western Ann Arbor. After his home run against
David Zang, author of "Fleet Walker's Baseball League, the sec- Wisconsin, The Chronicle said that
Divided Heart: The Life of Baseball's \+ ond-ever collegiate ath- Walker was greeted by "tumultuous
First Black Major Leaguer;" wrote that * letic league and the applause."
the racially tolerant atmosphere at predecessor to the Big But the paper only referred to Walker's
Oberlin "may have led Fleet"Ten. color once the entire season.
toward a false sense of "That this is a
possibilities." tstep in the right THE PROMISED LAND
During his direction no one Walker left Michigan after the 1882
fresh--will deny,' The season to begin a seven-year odyssey
m a n _Ch r o n icle through professional baseball. His broth-
y e a r wrote on er, Weldy, transferred from Oberlin to
Walker.Jan. 21, Michigan and played on Michigan's nine
caught for in the 1883 season.
an Oberlin " Walker signed with the Toledo Blue
team that Stockings in 1883, a team in the
played local Northwestern League. The next year, the
townsmen. In Blue Stockings joined the American
1880, he starred Association, the precursor to the
on a junior class American League and considered a
team that beat the major league. Walker officially became
senior class. In the the first black major league baseball
spring of 1881, Oberlin player, 35 years before Jackie Robinson
College reversed a previ- was born.
ous ban on playing teams d Weldy would join his brother on the
from other schools, and Blue Stockings during the 1884 sea-
Walker, along with his broth- son, getting limited at-bats. After
er Weldy, a freshman, was on that season, the team folded due to
the first 'Oberlin nine,'as teams financial difficulties, and no
were called then. major league team would pick
up either Walker. Moses and
A BLACK WOLVERINE Weldy Walker were the only
For Oberlin's last game of the sea- two black major leaguers
son, Michigan's team came down from before Robinson.
Ann Arbor. The Michigan team was But Walker didn't give
struggling, and its biggest weakness was up his baseball career,
behind the plate. Michigan's catchers or his dream of play-
were so bad that the team frequently - ing major league
hired players to play the position. In the ball. He floated
game, Oberlin defeated Michigan, 9-2. between four teams during
According to the diary of Harlan the next five years - all of them
Burkett, a pitcher on Walker's Oberlin integrated.
team, the Michigan players were so And he was met by racism nearly
impressed with Walker, a junior, and Below: everywhere he went.
r l . A .4.... D.'sr..Ialeni nB w. In September of 1884, when Walker

League owners meeting, the owners
voted 6-4 - the four dissenting votes
were the four teams with black players
- for the exclusion of all future con-
tracts with black players. This set a
precedent for all levels of organized
baseball. Jim Crow was in full effect.
By 1888, Walker's frustration with the
white baseball establishment was start-
ing to show. Having been forced out of
the International League, he was playing
with the Syracuse Stars of the
International Association.
In the third game of a three-game
series at Toronto, Walker took the day
off. Toronto manager Charlie Cushman
asked Walker, who was sitting on the
bench in street clothes, to leave the park.
The details are sketchy, and why
Cushman ordered Walker to leave is
unknown, but the two exchanged words.
As Walker left the park, he also
exchanged words with the Toronto fans.
Behind the stands, some fans sur-
rounded Walker. According to Sporting
Life, a sports-oriented newspaper sym-
pathetic towards black athletes, Walker
"flourished a loaded revolver and talked
of putting a hole in someone in the
crowd"
He was arrested, his gun was
impounded and he paid a fine. He was
back in the lineup the next night.
"Fleet Walker's good-natured public
demeanor was fraying," Zang wrote, "a
process begun with his slide from the
exhilarating heights of major league
baseball."
Walker was cut by the Stars after the
1889 season and retired, staying in
Syracuse. In April, 1891, Walker was
walking home from a bar when he was
accosted by a group of white men. Words
were exchanged, Walker drew a knife
and a man, Patrick Murray, was killed.
"Walker drew a knife and made a
stroke at his assailant;' Sporting Life
wrote. "The knife entered Murray's
groin, inflicting a fatal wound. Murray's
friends started after Walker with shouts
of 'Kill him! Kill him!' He escaped but
was captured by the police, and is locked
up."
Walker was tried for second degree
murder. A number of his friends testified
on his behalf, saying that he wasn't
drunk, but rather dizzied from being hit
in the head. Walker claimed self defense.
During the trial, the public supported
Walker, who was popular with the Stars
and considered charming and intelligent.
When Walker was acquitted, Sporting
Life wrote that "immediately a shout of
approval, accompanied by clapping of
hands and stamping of feet, rose from
the spectators"
Despite the acquittal, Zang saw the

Before Walker arrived in Ann
Arbor, in August of 1881, he
encountered his first documented
case of racism in baseball.
Playing for a team in
Cleveland, Walker travelled to
Louisville for a game against the
Louisville Eclipse. The Eclipse's
player's were none too happy to
be playing against a black. The
Louisville manager decided that
Walker couldn't play.
"In vain the Clevelands
protested that he was their regular
catcher, and that his withdrawal
would weaken the nine," the
Louisville Courier-Journal wrote
on August 22, 1881. "The preju-
dice of the Eclipse was either too
strong, or they feared Walker,
who has earned the reputation of
being the best amateur catcher in
the Union."
Cleveland substituted a man
named West, but he couldn't han-
dle the difficult position.
"In the second inning ... West
said he could not face the balls
with his hands so badly bruised,
and refused to fill the position,"
the Courier-Journal wrote.
The crowd's reaction was a
peculiar one. The fans wanted
Walker to play, but were racist at
the same time. The Courier-
Journal said they "at once set up
a cry in good nature for 'the nig-
ger.'
At that point, the Eclipse's
manager invited Walker to play.
But after making "several bril-
liant throws and fine catches"
while warming up, two Eclipse
players walked off the field and
refused to play unless Walker did-
n't. Walker returned to the bench,
and the Eclipse won the game.
The Louisville incident was the
first of many racist ones Walker
would encounter in baseball. But,

*

I

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