The Walker Brothers

What would you do if you were if your peers respected you for the expertise in which you do your job, but as a person, they were repulsed by you?  How would you react if your job was unfairly taken away from you, despite you not doing anything wrong?  How would you react if the hatred that was directed at you was the result of the ignorance and intolerance of other people?

Before there was Jackie Robinson and the color barrier there were two brothers, Moses Fleetwood Walker and Welday Walker, who broke the color barrier in professional baseball.  Moses was the first of the brothers to debut for Toledo.  Their careers’ at the highest level of professional baseball was brief, but their impact continues to be felt over 130 later.

Moses Fleetwood Walker was an excellent catcher, who had his career cut short due to the color of his skin. (www.en.wikipedia.org)

Moses Fleetwood Walker was an excellent catcher, who had his career cut short due to the color of his skin. (www.en.wikipedia.org)

The Walker brothers played for the 1884 Toledo Blue StockingsMoses Fleetwood Walker enjoyed the most success of the brothers.  He debuted on May 1, 1884.  In 42 career games, he had 152 AB, 40 hits, 2 doubles, 3 triples, 8 walks, .263 BA, .325 OBP, .316 SLG, .641OPS.  Defensively he played 41 games at catcher (352 innings) and 1 game in the outfield (7 innings), 359 innings, 328 chances, 220 putouts, 70 assists, 37 errors, and a .887 fielding percentage.  Welday Walker debuted July 15, 1884.  In five career games, he had 18 AB, 4 hits, 1 double, 1 run, .222 BA, .222 OBP, .278 SLG, .500 OPS.  Defensively he played 38 innings in the outfield, with 6 chances, 4 putouts, 2 errors, and a .667 fielding percentage.  The rookie seasons for the Walker brothers were solid foundations to build a successful career.  Unfortunately, their careers would not continue, but not due to their inability to play the game.

The attitudes of two men sum up the racism the Walker brothers and other potential African-American faced on and off the field.  Tony Mullane pitched for the Blue Stockings in 1884.  Mullane respected Moses as a player, but not as a man.

(Walker) was the best catcher I ever worked with, but I disliked a Negro and whenever I had to pitch to him I used to pitch anything I wanted without looking at his signals.”

Mullane pitched in 555 career games, winning 284 games.  His 284 wins are the third most of any pitcher not in the Baseball Hall of Fame.  Mullane could not overcome his racism to treat Moses as an equal, regardless of how detrimental it was to his personal success and the success of the team to not work with his catcher.

Tony Mullane could not see past hit own racism to see Moses Fleetwood Walker as a equal. (www.en.wilipedia.org)

Tony Mullane could not see past hit own racism to see Moses Fleetwood Walker as a equal. (www.en.wilipedia.org)

Racism prevented the Walker brothers from the careers they should have enjoyed.  After injuries sent Moses to the Minors for a few seasons, the door was shut to African-Americans players in Major League Baseball.

The second man, Cap Anson, was more powerful than Mullane.  In 1887, Chicago White Stockings manager Cap Anson refused to allow his team to play against the Newark Little Giants so long as Moses or George Stovey, an African-American pitcher.  Anson eventually did allow the White Stockings to play, but only after being threatened with the loss of half the ticket revenue for the exhibition game.  The International League ban was eventually rescinded.  The International League voted to exclude African-American players from future contracts.  This decision was driven, in part, by the incident in Newark.  However, in 1889 the American Association and the National League put up the color barrier, though it was never an official rule.  The top level of professional baseball would not see another African-American until Jackie Robinson played on April 15, 1947.

Cap Anson was a driving force in banning African-Americans from playing professional baseball. (www.pbs.org)

Cap Anson was a driving force in banning African-Americans from playing professional baseball. (www.pbs.org)

The baseball chapter of Moses Fleetwood and Welday Walker lives was far too short.  In the face of their inability to continue their playing careers, the Walker brothers turned their attention to the condition of African-Americans.  Welday filed a civil rights lawsuit after being denied entry into a skating rink.  While the lawsuit was successful, it did not require the skating rink to integrate.  The Walker brothers become involved in politics and the Back to Africa Movement.  They believed African-Americans would be better off if they left the United States and the racism that prevented so many from living fulfilling lives.

What would you do if you were if your peers respected you for the expertise in which you do your job, but as a person, they were repulsed by you?  How would you react if your job was unfairly taken away from you, despite you not doing anything wrong?  How would you react if the hatred that was directed at you was the result of the ignorance and intolerance of other people?

Welday Walker fought for equality on and off the baseball diamond. (www.en.wikipedia.org)

Welday Walker fought for equality on and off the baseball diamond. (www.en.wikipedia.org)

Moses Fleetwood Walker and Welday Walker, like so many African-Americans for far too long in the United States were discriminated against, looked down upon, and viewed as less than human solely based upon the pigment of their skin.  Their playing careers were cut short due to the inhumanity of others, and yet they continued to fight against impossible odds to improve the lives of others in similar situations.  Regardless what someone thinks about the Back to Africa Movement, it, along with the ban on African-American players in Major League Baseball, should stir the collective regret of America for how we as a people have treated our fellow citizens.

The shame of the past should not impede our collective progress, but it should work as a guide to shape how we address race in our society.  Racism existed in America in 1884, in 1947, and still exists in 2015.  It has decreased, but there is still work to be done.  The Walker brothers did not see a hopeful future for African-Americans in the United States.  130 years later, we still have our issues, but if anything, the Walker brothers taught us to be proactive in improving our own lives.  Someday racism will die out, and people will be judged and respected for their abilities and character, and not the color of their skin.

D

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One comment

  1. Pingback: Monte Irvin: More Than A Ball Player « The Winning Run

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