Discover Greatness: Part 1

Pre-1901: The Beginnings of Black Baseball

1867 — National Association of Professional Base Ball Players establishes first color line in baseball.

1871 — National Association of Professional Base Ball Players is formed. “Gentleman’s Agreement” bars Black players from first professional league and its successors.

1872 — “Bud” Fowler is first paid Black baseball player on white team in White Castle, Pennsylvania.

1884 — Moses Fleetwood Walker becomes first Black Major Leaguer when Toledo joins American Association.

1885 — Cuban Giants, first Black professional team, is formed at the Argyle Hotel in Long Island, New York.

1887 — International League board mandates “approve no more contracts of colored men.”

1889 — Moses Fleetwood Walker’s contract with Toledo not renewed because of his race.

1892 — No Black players will play on organized white teams for the next 13 years.

1896 — Plessy v. Ferguson argued in Supreme Court. Court rules that Black and white people do not have to co-mingle; facilities open to each race must be “separate but equal.”

Bud Fowler with Keokuk Team, 1885

Born John W. Jackson, “Bud” Fowler from upstate New York became the first Black professional ball player. In 1885, he joined the all-white Keokuk Team of the Western League. A former pitcher, he was described by Sporting Life magazine as a “crack colored second baseman.”

Moses Fleetwood Walker

The son of an Ohio physician, bare-handed catcher Moses Fleetwood Walker is known as the first Black player to integrate the Major Leagues. This historic event took place in 1884, when his Toledo team joined the American Association.

Dr. Lawrence Hogan, Emeritus Professor of History at Union County College, on Moses Fleetwood Walker

Syracuse Stars, 1887

Robert Higgins (lower left corner) was a star pitcher for the Syracuse Stars. After two teammates refused to make a team portrait with Higgins, International League executives passed a motion stating “no more contracts with colored men,” creating baseball’s first official color barrier.

Cuban Giants, 1887

The Cubans were originally formed in 1885 by Frank P. Thompson, a headwaiter at the Argyle Hotel. Credited by some historians as the first salaried Black team, the Giants traditionally had the best players and routinely beat all comers.

Page Fence Giants, 1895

Page Fence Giants of Adrian, Michigan, were Black baseball’s most notorious club before the turn of the century. In 1897, the Giants reeled off 82 consecutive wins with stars like Charlie Grant (2L) at second, George Wilson (3L) pitching and shortstop Grant “Home Run” Johnson at the helm.

The Argyle Hotel, 1896

Built in 1882, this elegant resort in Babylon, New York, was named after England’s Duke of Argyll. The Argyle is considered home of the first Black professional team, the original Cuban Giants, comprised of the hotel’s Black waiters.

Lawrence Hogan on racism in baseball

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