The Syracuse Stars Base sphere Club poses because that a team portrait in 1889. Black color baseball pioneer Moses Fleetwood walker is in the ago row, far right.

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REPORTING native STEUBENVILLE, Ohio—Mark Palmer wanders through a cemetery in a southeastern Ohio stole town trying to find a male most of the world has forgotten.

Years ago, Palmer’s grandmother told the the story that the man buried here. That’s my uncle, she said, your great-grand uncle. His surname was Moses Fleetwood Walker, and he to be the first black baseball player in the major leagues.

Palmer occasionally discussed this to his boyhood friends.

“Jackie Robinson to be the first,” they replied. “Everyone knows that.”


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So Palmer let the be.

Now, in ~ Union Cemetery, Palmer meanders the grounds, wracking his brain. The can’t uncover the tomb site.

On the gentle sloping hills, that is cool and also shady and also it smells that fresh-cut grass. The chirps of crickets fill the thick air.

Palmer thinks the tomb is close to the road, or perhaps near the mausoleum, so he checks there first.


At the very least the grave is significant now. Walker died in 1924 and also it wasn’t till 1990 that the Oberlin Heisman society planted a headstone come commemorate its student from long ago. Palmer and a couple of others attend the ceremony.

A few locals recognize bits and also pieces the Walker’s story, yet outside that this blue-collar region he remains largely unknown. Previous Dodger Don Newcombe, a pioneer native the Robinson era, claimed he hadn’t heard the name.

Walker played in the significant leagues for one season, 63 years before Robinson. And after the one season, over there wasn’t one more black player in the majors for six decades.

With nobody to carry on his legacy, walker all however disappeared indigenous baseball’s wealthy history. His one grandchild died in infancy. Palmer, that is believed to be Walker’s closest living relative, demands to above a map simply to uncover the basic area that his grave.

“Segregation in baseball in reality started once he started,” Palmer says. “That’s type of a duration of background that baseball wanted to forget.”

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For decades, nobody knew who the first black major leaguer was.

Today, a consensus of the game’s historians believe a previous slave named William Edward White was the first.

White was a fill-in because that one video game in 1879. But until 2004, as soon as researchers discovered much more information about him, nobody knew he was black.

Breaking the color barrier is a various kind of accomplishment. Walker lasted nearly a full season — and also may have actually played much longer if not for an injury — and endured every the taunts, insults and vulgarities the groundbreaking blacks were subjected to throughout those times.

He faced obstacles prior to he reached the majors. In 1883, walker was play for minor league Toledo once the Chicago White Stockings and their manager, future room of Famer lid Anson, checked out for an exhibition game.

Anson, utilizing a gyeongju slur that was quoted in the next day’s Toledo Blade, stated his team would not play versus a team with a black color player.

Walker, a catcher, had planned to take the game off to remainder his hand — the players in those days walk not usage gloves — but his manager decided to an obstacle Anson by playing walker in the outfield.

The adhering to year, 1884, Toledo moved up come the major leagues, playing versus teams such together the Baltimore Orioles, Washington Nationals and Brooklyn Atlantics as part of the American Assn. Approximately midseason, Walker’s younger brother, Weldy Wilberforce Walker, joined him ~ above the team, ending up being the 3rd and last black significant leaguer prior to Jackie Robinson.

Moses pedestrian batted .263 in 42 games throughout his one significant league season, a year the wore on the emotionally and physically. That slept on park benches when he to be denied enntrance gate to some hotels in the South. Towards the end of the season, the team received a letter threatening Walker’s life. It claimed a lot of 75 men was wait for the if he played a video game in Richmond, Va.

By then, though, Walker had actually been injured and dropped indigenous the team. He remained in baseball an additional five years, researcher believe, bouncing around the boy leagues.

In 1887, the was play for Newark that the worldwide League when he encountered Anson again. The White Stockings manager had rallied more support because that segregating the game, and also he efficiently had Walker and a black color teammate gotten rid of from the lineup.

That same day, the worldwide League’s managers agreed in a vote no to sign any more black players.

The shade line was drawn.

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Moses Fleetwood pedestrian was a complex man.

Born in Mt. Pleasant, Ohio, in 1856, he was well educated and, by blacks and also many whites, very respected. That attended Oberlin College and spent a year in ~ Michigan regulation School. He to be a businessman, a newspaper publisher and a scholar. He obtained patents for pho shells and motion-picture devices. He wrote a book on gyeongju relations.

But that suffered, too. And when the suffered, he drank. And when that drank, he could turn violent.

In 1891, pedestrian was life in Syracuse, whereby he had once played because that the Syracuse Stars baseball team. On an April afternoon, the Syracuse Courier reported, he was heading to the edge of Monroe and Orange streets in Syracuse when he encountered a team of white men.

Walker said among the guys shouted a racial insult at him, which motivated a confrontation. Witnesses disagreed around who assaulted whom first, but one the the guys struck pedestrian in the earlier of the head through a rock. Staggered, that pulled out a knife and also stabbed the guy in the groin.

The guy was brought away by his companions, however the bleeding no stop. Walker was arrested and also put top top trial because that murder.

Twelve white men sat top top his jury. News reports said a huge crowd, curious around what would take place to one of the regional team’s previous ballplayers, packed the courthouse to hear the verdict: not guilty.

Elsewhere, black guys were being lynched for less. But Walker was well-known in Syracuse, and also when the decision was check out the courtroom erupted in cheers so loud the judge reportedly damaged his gavel do the efforts to restore order.

However, the goodwill didn’t last. Walker took a bottom turn. He served time because that mail fraud and ended up a billiards clerk. He to be 67 once he died.

Toward the end of his life, Walker observed no ar for blacks in what he perceived as a hostile society.

He became an support for emigration to Africa, and also he wrote a book on the topic.

“There is for sure no structure either in factor or suffer for a hope that the the majority of the American negro will grow better,” he wrote.

Decades later, when author David Zang was researching walker for the biography “Fleet Walker’s split Heart,” he struggled to find a copy the Walker’s book.

The Library the Congress had actually somehow shed it from its rare-book collection. Oberlin College had it detailed in that is archives however the publication wasn’t top top the shelves.

“I was simply nosing every one of those shelves,” Zang said, “and discovered that it had fallen ago behind them.”

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The drive right into Steubenville winds along the Ohio River, wherein steel mills when dotted the financial institutions from Wheeling, W. Va., to Pittsburgh.

When walker was born, the river divided free soil and the servant land of what was then Virginia, currently West Virginia.

Little remains of walker there now, as if his memory had actually been swept away through the current. His old house was long earlier leveled. The theatre Walker once operated is a furniture store.

The Baseball hall of Fame has 212 pages in Walker’s player files yet no document of his descendants.

The Ohio Genealogical society could find no links to anyone living. Oberlin, wherein Walker visited school, had nothing on relatives in its archives. Walker was a member of the Knights of Pythias, yet they had no documents either.

Palmer, currently 62, hadn’t to be hiding, that course. Yet like most things v Walker, the was tough to find.

John Husman, chronicler for the Toledo mud Hens minor league baseball team, held the key. Five years ago, he organized a Moses Fleetwood pedestrian Night. He want a loved one of Walker’s come throw the end the first pitch, for this reason he started placing together a genealogical chart. He got dead ends.

“It take it me a lengthy time,” Husman said. Eventually, that came across an old newspaper article about the tomb marker. Mickey Cochrane, one Oberlin alumnus and also longtime coach at adjacent Bowling environment-friendly State in Ohio, to be mentioned. Husman met v Cochrane (no relationship to the room of call catcher that the same name), and he psychic Palmer native the ceremony.

Palmer has lived his whole life in Steubenville, an unremarkable town of about 18,000 citizens located about 40 miles west the Pittsburgh. The community recently made national headlines when two high school football players to be convicted the a rape the was observed by various other students and also recounted over social media.

The brick home where Palmer lives with his wife, Vanessa, sits alongside an old school. Sitting in the living room together he visits with a stranger that has displayed up come talk around his remote relative, that is relaxed and quick come laugh.

He’s not sure he can aid much. He claims he mostly knows what he’s read.

“You sort of wonder after every this time, how come nobody yes, really knew around it or said much around it?” he claims of Walker’s contributions to baseball.

He had been unsure himself until 1990, when the Oberlin Heisman club contacted Palmer’s father around the gravestone. Just then did Palmer know for sure his grandmother had been right.

Later, the very first pitch in ~ the dirt Hens game — his kid threw it and he captured it barehanded — do the neighborhood news. Palmer emailed the video clip to skeptical friends. During college, he recalled, one woman had been an especially outspoken in she disbelief. Palmer made sure she was replicated on the email.

Palmer preserved a plaque with Walker’s photo, and his wife included Walker come a household collage in the living room.

Ninety-four years separated his birth from Walker’s, however he had actually seen some of his an excellent grand-uncle’s gloomy suspect come true.

“It wasn’t favor Jim Crow down South,” Palmer claims of growing up in Steubenville in the 1950s and also ‘60s. “But there to be some places that blacks couldn’t get in or they no welcome.”

Well-to-do white folks, the said, live on optimal of the town’s hills. Immigrants, the poor and blacks typically lived at the bottom. The Palmers were the very first black family on their block halfway increase the hill, an interpretation Palmer and his brothers were the an initial black student in the elementary school school. Yet soon, he said, the ar lines were redrawn, conveniently lacking Palmer’s block.

Palmer’s grandfather ran the black recreation center, which had actually the town’s black swimming pool. To black color residents, that was just “the pool.”

White residents called it “the inkwell.”

Palmer play baseball and also football, but his days as a quarterback ended when he gotten in high school. Black color boys no quarterbacks in those times, also if his midtown team routinely defeated the white team indigenous the optimal of the hill.

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In the cemetery, a few dead leaves autumn from branches. For a time, Palmer looks previous plain graves significant simply through “MOTHER” or “BABY” before his search ends in the the shade of a maple tree.

A tuft the periwinkle is brushed next to present the inscription in granite: MOSES FLEETWOOD WALKER.

Under that: an initial BLACK significant LEAGUE BASEBALL PLAYER IN USA.

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Palmer recalls that together a child, that would periodically camp the end in the special woods by his residence with simply a blanket, part sandwiches and a jar of milk.