Who Was the First African American Professional Baseball Player?

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Many people assume Jackie Robinson was the first African American professional baseball player, but in actuality, America’s very first black professional baseball player was a man named William Edward White, who played one game for the Providence Grays in 1879. Not only was White the first black player to get paid to take up a bat, he was also the first former slave to play pro ball.

The exact details of William Edward White’s life are somewhat obscure, but a few clear facts are known. He was the son of a businessman and a slave, and he lived as a white man. White did not openly proclaim his ethnicity, which is part of the reason why his name is not particularly well known. Prior to the research that uncovered White’s identity, many experts believed that the first black man in America to play professional baseball was an athlete by the name of Moses Fleetwood Walker, who played his first game in the majors in 1884 as a member of the Toledo Blue Stockings. White’s status as the first black man to play professional baseball in America should not be seen as a slight to Robinson’s legacy or a reason to discount the many challenges Robinson faced as a lone racial minority player during a time of widespread racial injustice.