State Reps. David Leland (D-Columbus) – aka “Mr. Baseball” – and Thomas West (D-Canton) applauded the Ohio House’s anticipated passage of House Bill (HB) 59 today, their legislation to honor Moses Fleetwood Walker, the nation’s first professional African American baseball player. The bill designates Walker’s birthday of October 7 as “Moses Fleetwood Walker Day” in the state of Ohio.
“In the face of unrelenting discrimination, Moses Fleetwood Walker persevered and overcame, and his story as the first African American professional baseball player still inspires even today,” said Leland, who also serves on the board of trustees for the Columbus Clippers, the Cleveland Indians’ Triple-A farm team. “It is also a reminder that sometimes after we get something right…we lose our way, and that the fight for equality and justice for all never ends.”
Born and raised in Ohio, Walker attended Oberlin College in 1877 and played on the school’s first varsity baseball team. His skill as a catcher and batter led to Walker being signed by the Toledo Blue Stockings in 1883, where he would begin his professional baseball career.
Walker’s career in baseball was cut short when both the American Association and the National League unofficially banned African American players in 1889. It would not be until 1947 when the color barrier was finally broken by the Brooklyn Dodgers’ Jackie Robinson.
“Over a half-century before Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier, Moses Fleetwood Walker overcame bigotry and racism to claim his place on the baseball diamond,” said West. “By establishing ‘Moses Fleetwood Walker’ day, we can help cement the Ohio’s native rightful place in history as the first African American to play professional baseball in the United States.”
Similar legislation was previously introduced during the 131st General assembly, received wide bipartisan support and unanimously passed out of the House of Representatives.
Once passed by the Ohio House this afternoon, the bill will be referred to the Ohio Senate for further consideration and potential passage to Gov. Kasich’s desk.