by David Zang
Moses Fleetwood Walker was the first black American to play baseball in a major league. But Walker is more than a footnote: his life demonstrates both the devastation of racism and the role of baseball as a symbol of the nation. Walker achieved college baseball stardom while he was a student at Oberlin College in the 1880s. As Walker's athletic ability earned success on the playing field, racial attitudes were hardening and segregation was becoming the pattern of American society, both on the field and off. Teammates as well as opponents harassed him; Cap Anson, the Chicago White Stockings star, is credited with driving Walker and the few other blacks in the major leagues out of the game but could not have done so alone. Walker's life was defined as much by the fact that he was part white as it was by his black heritage. His attempts to reconcile his Anglo and African aspects left him in glorious disarray. Although acquitted of a murder on the grounds of self-defense, he eventually served time in prison on a federal mail robbery conviction. A gifted athlete, an inventor, a civil rights activist, an author, and an entrepreneur, Walker lived precariously along the fault lines of America's racial dilemma. He died in 1924 after a life of thwarted ambition and talent, frustrated by both the American dream and the national pastime.