Who Was The First African-american Pro Baseball Player?

Was Jackie Robinson the first African-American to play professional baseball? Not quite. Though he was the first to play pro ball during the modern era. So who has the distinction of being the first? There’s not an easy answer to that question.

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Jackie Robinson is often remembered by armchair historians and sports fans as the first African-American to play professional baseball, but the truth is more complex than that. It is true when Robinson debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 that he was the first African-American to play professional baseball in what is considered the modern era of baseball, but he was not the first African-American to ever play pro ball in the United States.

So who was the first?

Some questions remain about this topic.

Generally, Moses “Fleet” Walker is thought to be the first African-American to play professional baseball. History records that in 1883 Walker joined the minor league Toledo Blue Stockings, but then in 1884 the Toledo team joined the American Association, a major baseball league of the time. Walker, now considered a member of a major league team, played his first major league game on May 1, 1884, against the Louisville Eclipse.

It would seem Walker was the first African-American to play pro baseball. But the story does not end there.

Meet William Edward White.

White played a single major league baseball game. On June 21, 1879, he played as a substitute player for the Providence Grays.

The main question concerning White is this: Was he black? Was he African-American?

White was the son of a white plantation owner and a slave of mixed race. White having been born in 1860, was legally considered a slave at his birth.

Census records during White’s lifetime are also confusing. The 1870 census records White as a mulatto. The 1900 and 1910 census records record White as white. However, the 1920 census records White as black.

Then there is the fact no one knows for sure when and where White died. He was known to be living in Chicago as of 1920.

So, who was the first African-American to play professional baseball? The answer somewhat depends upon one’s own thoughts on the matter. Walker is generally accepted as the first black to play pro ball, but what about White?

Other baseball links

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10 historical facts about the Durham Bulls

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7 Comments
  1. Posted February 12, 2011 at 10:34 am

    Cool. I had never heard of those guys (except Robinson, of course).

  2. Posted February 12, 2011 at 10:49 am

    Interesting how what general history states isn’t always as it seems. Thanx for sharing.

  3. Posted February 12, 2011 at 11:11 am

    I knew from the headline that Jackie wasn’t it!

    Made it a compulsing “must read.”

    You didn’t disappoint – great article.

    I know JR went through a lot and helped the break through but I sometimes think that there are others, many unknown, who helped as much. We need more research and more information like this to give us a better understanding.

    I think we find that bias was such a patchwork quilt and yet some form was on every level of society.

    Thanks for airing this idea in your work.

  4. Posted February 12, 2011 at 2:58 pm

    I totally agree with Greg

  5. Posted February 13, 2011 at 1:17 pm

    best article i’ve read in awhile. way to keep it fresh nice work.

  6. Posted February 14, 2011 at 9:46 am

    Thanks for that one ;)

  7. Posted February 16, 2011 at 4:51 am

    Learnt something new from your article!

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