Akron City Councilman, Russ Neal recently proposed the creation of a new holiday, which would replace the Oct. 12 holiday honoring Christopher Columbus, with a day honoring America’s Indigenous People. I’d venture to say, most Americans look at Christopher Columbus as a hero, because of his courageous search for a new route to India. However, many people have a very different view of him, because of the cruelties he personally inflicted on the native people’s of America. Suffice it to say, this resolution is as of yet, unresolved. The Italian community came out in force to support their hero.
Meanwhile, House Bill 59, which was sponsored by Ohio State Reps. David Leland (D., Toledo) and Thomas West (D., Canton) was recently signed into law, making October 7th Moses Fleetwood Walker Day. It was the third attempt to get the bill passed by the Ohio legislature and old Fleet did not disappoint. Just one more home run for Fleet Walker.
If you ask the average man on the street who were the earliest African Americans to play major league baseball, the answer will typically be Jackie Robinson. What is virtually never mentioned is why there was a colorline in the first place.
Racism is a belief system that defies logic and requires the suspension of reality, in order to exist. Fleetwood Walker, his brother Welday Walker and other early African American ball players came with the real, every day. They exhibited their prowess on the ballfield, right alongside White ballplayers. If they had been inferior players, there would have been no reason to have a colorline, in the first place. It would have been a moot question. First and foremost, who would want to pay them top dollar to compete against some of the 19th century’s best players, like Cap Anson, who outright refused to play with Fleetwood on the field?
Not only could these men play ball with the best of them, they were also exemplary men, in a rough and tumble sport that was replete with hooliganism. Both Fleetwood and his brother graduated from an integrated high school in Steubenville, Ohio during the late 1870’s. They also attended Oberlin College and the University of Michigan together, with the elder Fleetwood leading the way.
At the time baseball was becoming America’s foremost pastime, Fleetwood was a superior hitter and catcher. Without the benefit of a proper glove or protective equipment, like our modern-day players, Fleetwood sustained many injuries. Racism came into play here, as well, because one pitcher, in particular, objected to a Black man signaling him what pitch to throw. In spite of everything, Fleetwood was a valued member of every club he joined.
He played pro ball, exclusively on integrated teams, from 1883 to 1889, beginning with the Toledo Blue Stockings and ending with The Syracuse Stars. By the time he was released from the Stars, segregated leagues had already sprung up. He had no interest in playing Negro League ball. Over the years he invested much of his money to a number of entrepreneurial ventures. Once his playing days were behind him he decided to pursue these other interests full time.
His brother ended up joining him in some of his new enterprises, which included the promotion of a plan to leave the United States, in search of a better life on the African continent. Moses had come full circle, joining the likes of Bishop Henry McNeil Turner and other prominent African Americans in seeking a solution to America’s “race problem” in faraway Africa.
As far as I know, neither of them ever made it to the Motherland. Fleetwood took his final breath on May 11th, 1924. His was a life well lived, with many accomplishments to his name, including the patenting of 4 of his ideas, proprietorship of a number of ventures, including an Opera House and a newspaper. He died the same way he lived, with dignity and style, unmatched by many of his fiercest opponents. Let us remember the life of Moses Fleetwood Walker, for he deserves more than one minute of recognition. He deserves a day of his own.