COLUMBUS — Moses Fleetwood “Fleet” Walker, major league baseball’s first black player to play under contract, was given an early 160th birthday present Thursday as he was inducted into the Ohio Civil Rights Hall of Fame.
In the years following the Civil War and the end of slavery, the biracial, bare-handed catcher, born in Mount Pleasant near Steubenville, caught one injury-interrupted season, 1884, for the Toledo Blue Stockings. His younger brother, Weldy, soon after joined the team, becoming the second black major league player in history.
Toledo’s first professional team soon folded, but not before it became part of the American Association, retroactively considered a major league that eventually merged with the National League.
After that season, white team owners erected the unofficial “color barrier” that would prevent Walker, his brother, who any other black players from setting foot on a major league field for nearly seven decades.
“I look at it as a sort of a cautionary tale, because, remember, we had it right in 1884—an African American playing professional baseball…,” said Rep. David Leland (D., Columbus), one of the sponsors of a new law designating Oct. 7 of each year as Moses Fleetwood “Fleet” Walker Day.
“And then we lost it…,” he said. “Hatred, bigotry, racism kept Moses Walker from playing baseball in the United States of America. An African American would not play professional baseball until 67 years later with Jackie Robinson.”
He said the award was a reminder that “the fight for liberty, justice, and equality is never ever finished.”
Walker continued to play in the minors until 1889.
“This guy was experiencing people shouting at him and spitting at him,” said Rep. Thomas West (D., Canton), the first African American state representative from Stark County. He sponsored the Walker bill with Mr. Leland.
“Even his own team players couldn’t stand him, but this is a man who every day went after his dream…,” he said. “It’s so important right now for us in looking at history to make it right, and I think today we got that right.”
Walker died in 1924, decades before Robinson broke the color barrier. The first official day honoring Walker in Ohio will take place on Oct. 7, 2018.
The Ohio Civil Rights Commission also inducted:
—Lawrence “Bunker” Harper, Mansfield’s first black police officer and eventually the city’s first black police chief. He died last year.
—Lt. Col. Gilbert H. Jones, of Columbus, became the second African American graduate of the Ohio State Highway Patrol Academy and the first to be promoted to a supervisory position and then lieutenant colonel. He personally accepted his award.
—The marching mothers and children, who despite the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, fought against segregated schools in Hillsboro in southern Ohio. They marched daily for two years to a white-only school only to be turned away. The legal fight made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, and the first integrated school opened in Hillsboro in 1956.
Contact Jim Provance at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 614-221-0496.
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