Zang rescues Moses Walker from undeserved obscurity,
By A Customer
This review is from: Fleet Walker's Divided Heart: The Life of Baseball's First Black Major Leaguer (Paperback)
To properly understand the Twentieth Century American civil rights movement, one must understand how and why a similar movement failed during the Reconstruction years following the Civil War. Likewise with baseball history--to properly appreciate Jackie Robinson breaking the major league color line in 1947, one must understand the less salutary 1884 experience of Moses Fleetwood "Fleet" Walker.
Walker, born of middle class mixed-race parents in Ohio in 1857, attended and played baseball at integrated colleges in the early 1880's. In 1883 he left school to pursue a professional career with the minor league Toledo Blue Stockings. Baseball teams of the era determined whether to employ African Americans on a team-by-team basis, and Walker's presence on Toledo drew only occasional attention from fans and opponents.
In 1884 the major league American Association absorbed Toledo as an expansion team. Walker, by then an excellent defensive catcher, followed his team into the Association to become the first black major leaguer. Injuries hobbled Walker, however, and eventually cut his season short. The Toledo club folded after the season.
Walker returned to the minor leagues in 1885, but faced hardening racial prejudice which blocked his return to the majors. In 1889 the minor International League, in which Walker then played, joined the majors in adopting an unwritten, unofficial color line. By then Walker's career was winding down anyway.
Walker's subsequent life defies easy characterization. He patented four inventions, published a book, and owned a successful opera house--but also struggled with alcohol, served jail time for stealing from the U.S. mails, and stood trial (but won acquittal) for his role in a knife fight.
Author Zang integrates Walker's varying experiences into the larger mosaic of declining race relations in the America of his era. Indeed, Zang often ventures too far from the facts of Walker's life--interesting enough in their own right--into airy sociological speculation. He perhaps over-emphasizes Walker's mixed-race parentage as bringing about the "divided heart" of his title. His book nonetheless serves as a valuable testimonial to a fascinating and forgotten life.
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