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Myths: Jackie Robinson was not the first Black Major League Baseball player
By Scotty Reid
As it has been exposed that Jason Collins is not the first gay athlete to “come out” while playing a major sport, another lie or myth is being exposed in that Jackie Robinson, whom Collins compared himself to and the subject of the recently released Hollywood film 42, is not the first Black baseball player to play in Major League Baseball. That distinction belongs to Moses Fleetwood Walker who was not only a professional baseball player but an inventor, author and a Black Nationalist.
Just as I have questioned Jason Collins being labeled as a “first”, I have to question why Jackie Robinson, #42, is being erroneously labeled by some as the first man of African descent to play Major League Baseball.
As some have already argued to me privately, we need to first establish that the league that Moses Fleetwood Walker played in is in fact Major League Baseball.
The American Association baseball league was in fact a professional baseball league and lasted for 10 seasons starting in 1882 until it folded in 1891. Moses Fleetwood Walker played for American Association’s Toledo Blue Stockings and made his professional debut May 1, 1884. Walker played in 42 games, the same as Robinson’s number for the Dodgers and he batted .263. The American Association league held a “world series” along with the rival National League every year of its existence until the fold and the NL has played the new American League every year in a world series to this day. The teams that started out in the now defunct American Association still carry their total team victories in their team record books to this day. Those MLB teams are the Los Angeles Dodgers, Cincinnati Reds and the St. Louis Cardinals.
The Los Angels Dodgers were known as the Brooklyn Dodgers when Jackie Robinson was signed to play for the team in 1947 but was known as the Brooklyn Grays when the team played in the American Association league.
Most sources used for this essay do properly cite that Jackie Robinson was not the first “African-American” to play Major League Baseball and Moses Fleetwood Walker is properly cited as the first Black professional baseball player before racism raised it’s ugly head after his only season in the majors and led to the ban on Black players in professional baseball as was the case with other sports in America. Professional horse racing in the 1800s used enslaved Africans who were already skilled from racing horses in Africa and these men were enslaved for that very specific reason. White jockeys formed unions that shut Black jockeys out with bans with the owner’s cooperation.
In fact, Robinson was not even the second Black professional baseball player, that distinction belongs to Moses Fleetwood Walker’s brother, Welday Walker.
So why has Hollywood elevated Jackie Robinson above the Walker brothers and contributing to the myth that he was the first Black Major League Baseball player. The plain answer is racism white supremacy in Hollywood, a frequent and continuous charge. To understand this you must look at the individual lives of Walker and Robinson.
In order to help compare and contrast the two men we must establish terms to separate the two Black men from each other. One term that counter-racist Dr. Neely Fuller Jr. has come up with is “racial showcasing” which refers to, in his example, the Black people who are promoted or “showcased” within the context of white supremacy to make it seem like racism no longer exists, like pointing to Black millionaires and “putting them out front” to distract from the fact that despite these Black millionaires, millions of Black people worldwide are living in a condition of white supremacist engineered poverty.
However, as Malcolm X and others have pointed out, there exist within America and the Black community, two types of Black people, the “House Negro” and the “Field Negro”. However, I do not think it would be fair to label Robinson a “House Negro” although it could be legitimately argued he was in the context of Malcolm’s definitions. Even though Jackie Robinson promised not to fight back against racist abuse related to the team’s activities when signing with the Dodgers, he did take part in the wider civil rights movement and spoke out against racism and discrimination during his career. For the purpose of this comparison, Jackie Robinson is designated as an “African-American” and Moses Fleetwood Walker as “Black”. Although Walker was born in 1856 to a Black doctor and a white woman, Walker identified as Black and would be labeled as such by white society in terms that are more derogatory.
Jackie Robinson considered himself and fought to be considered an American and to receive all the privileges associated with being a citizen of the United States of America. To prove his commitment to America, Robinson once testified at a anti-communist hearing about communism and sought to distance himself and the rest of Black people in America from Paul Robeson, an anti-racist and anti-capitalist activist who was politically repressed by the U.S. government and Robinson played a role in his alienation. Robinson would be “racially showcased” as a reward for his service to American Imperialism.
Moses Fleet Walker was in contrast, a Black Nationalist who advocated a return to Africa policy for African descendant people in America. He did not believe that racial integration could be successful in America and he published “Our Home Colony: A Treatise on the Past, Present, and Future of the Negro Race in America” in 1910 to advocate for returning Black people to Africa. He believed because of racial abuse suffered, the Black race would become a menace to America. He incorrectly predicted that Blacks would start a “reign of terror” on white America similar to previous enslaved African revolts. Walker himself would kill a white man by the name of Patrick Murray because of racial terrorism. Murray along with several other white men violently attacked Walker and he was forced to defend himself with a knife. Walker would be charged with second-degree murder and to everyone’s surprise, was acquitted by an all white jury.
It is because of these Black Nationalist views and the fact that he killed a white man by stabbing him in the groin in self-defense, it is my belief that these are the reasons his life story is not being promoted by Hollywood movies and suppressed while Robinson’s story has been and still is highly “showcased”.
For the historical record, William Edward White may have been the first Black Major League Baseball player although only playing one game leading to disagreement over the designation.