Black History Month

Breaking Baseball’s Color Barrier—Twice

As we continue to celebrate Black History Month, Goodwill of Colorado is excited to share the stories of Americans who overcame incredible challenges placed in their path yet still achieved remarkable success. To learn more about how you can celebrate Black History Month and its designated theme of Black Health and Wellness, please click here, courtesy of the University of Southern California.

Each year on April 15, every Major League Baseball player wears the same number on his jersey: #42 in honor of Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson. While Robinson is deserving of every accolade he received during and after his groundbreaking baseball career, he was not the first person of color to play in the major leagues. That distinction belongs to Moses Fleetwood Walker, the first Black man to play major league baseball, in 1884, for the Toledo Blue Stockings.

Walker played catcher for the Blue Stockings for just one season, during a time when players did not wear protective gear, including the thick catcher’s mitt we are familiar with today. Not only did Walker suffer numerous injuries as a result, his own teammates disregarded his signs so he often did not know what type of pitch they were going to throw, causing further injury. After leaving baseball, Walker became an inventor and entrepreneur, receiving four patents for an artillery shell and film projection equipment.

The next person of color to play on a Major League Baseball team was called up 63 years later. Jackie Robinson—the first UCLA athlete to letter in four sports in one year and World War II veteran—joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, once again breaking baseball’s color barrier.

Like Walker, Robinson endured excruciating bigotry, racial epithets, threats to his safety and the unrelenting scrutiny that accompanies being the first person of color to tackle any prominent job. He handled it with grace and set about proving his detractors wrong with his stellar performance on and off the field. During Robinson’s 10 seasons with the Dodgers, they won six pennants and one World Series. He retired in 1957 with a .313 batting average, 200 stolen bases and nearly 1000 runs scored. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, 1962.

Robinson’s remarkable talent, achievements and composure inspired many, including Dr. Martin Luther King, who said in 1968, “Jackie Robinson made my success possible. Without him, I never would have been able to do what I did.”

During Black History Month, we celebrate the courage and accomplishments of those who broke through societal barriers and offer a grateful tip of the hat to Moses Fleetwood Walker and Jackie Robinson, heroes on and off the field.

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