Question of the Month:

First African American in Professional Baseball

August 2006

Q:  My teacher said that Bud Fowler should get credit as the first African American to play professional baseball. Is she right?

-- Kilpatrick Layne, Frisco, Texas

Bud Fowler

A:  Black Americans played baseball throughout the 1800's, and by the 1860's notable Black amateur teams such as the Colored Union Club (of Brooklyn) and the Pythian Club (of Philadelphia) had formed. All-Black professional teams began in the 1880s, among them the St. Louis Black Stockings and the Cuban Giants (of New York). Reflecting American society in general, amateur and professional baseball remained largely segregated.

During the 1890s, most professional Black players were limited to playing in exhibition games on "colored" teams on the barnstorming circuit. Players on major league teams also barnstormed in cities and towns after the regular season was over. In some places Black teams and White teams played each other, and some Blacks played for all-Black teams in otherwise all-White leagues.

  • 1878: Bud Fowler, becomes the first Black player to cross the color barrier as a pitcher for the Lynn, Mass. Live Oaks of the International League.
  • 1883: Moses Fleetwood "Fleet" Walker, joins the minor league Toledo Blue Stockings as a catcher. When the Blue Stockings joined the American Association in 1884, Walker became the first Black major leaguer.
  • 1885: the (NY) Cuban Giants became the very first salaried professional Black baseball team.
  • 1887: In July of 1887, the International League banned future contracts with Black players, although it allowed Black players already under contract to stay on with their teams.
  • 1894: Bud Fowler forms an independent Page Fence Giants team in Adrian, Michigan.
  • 1901: In an attempt to bypass the color barrier, Baltimore Oriole manager John McGraw introduced his new player as Chief Charlie Tokohama, a full blooded American Indian. McGraw's plan backfired when fans in Chicago recognized the 'Chief' as actually being Charlie Grant, a well known star for the Page Fence Giants.
  • 1907: Pitcher Rube Foster begins his managerial career with the Leland Giants as a player-manager.
  • 1920: On February 14, Rube Foster organizes the first Black professional baseball league (Negro National League) consisting of eight teams: Chicago American Giants, Chicago Giants, Dayton Marcos, Detroit Stars, Indianapolis ABC's, Kansas City Monarchs, St. Louis Giants, and the Cuban Stars.
August 2006 response by Todd Bolton, Negro League Baseball Players Association Historian

Negro League Baseball Players Association Web Site