February 02, 2004
Color line broken earlier?

According to this story, the Society for American Baseball Research is trying to determine if William Edward White, who played one game with the National League's Providence Greys in 1879, was the first black man to play in a major league game.

The Wall Street Journal reported Friday on the White case.

Until now, it was generally accepted that the first two black players were catcher Moses Fleetwood Walker and his brother, Welday, an outfielder. Both played for the Toledo Blue Stockings of the American Association, then a major league, in 1884.

After that, no black player appeared until Jackie Robinson with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.

White attended Brown University, was born in 1860 and was the son of A.J. White of Milner, Ga., according to school records.

Peter Morris, an SABR researcher, got in contact with Civil War historian Bruce Allardice, according to the Journal, and Allardice found the only A.J. White in Milner in 1880 was Andrew J. White and that the 1880 census said his household included a 35-year-old mulatto woman, Hannah White.

Mark Arslan, a genealogist of the White family, told Allardice that the 1880 census reported A.J. White owned 70 slaves. Allardice and Arslan found that the 1870 census showed Hannah White was living with her mother and three children, including a 9-year-old mulatto boy, William White.

Morris found that A.J. White's will, in a courthouse in Zebulon, stated he left the balance of his estate to "William Edward White, Anna Nora White and Sarah Adelaide White, the children of my servant Hannah."

Jim Gates, library director of the Hall of Fame, has been aware of SABR's research on the project.

"We don't have a lot on William Edward White," he said. "Several SABR people had been through and indicated this was one of the people they were searching on, so we gave them all we had.

"Hopefully they will continue to find more information."

You may ask why it matters if a guy who played one game in 1879 becomes known as the first black ballplayer in the major leagues. It matters because William Edward White, and maybe others like him, demonstrate that baseball didn't have to have a color line. Major League Baseball could have let talent be the determining factor of success. I don't know what it would have taken to overcome the racism and cowardice that ultimately prevailed, but who can say what would have happened if a Josh Gibson or a Satchel Paige had established himself by 1884, when Cap Anson refused to let his team play if Fleet Walker was in his opponent's lineup. I just know which way would have been better, and it's important to remember what we all lost as a result.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on February 02, 2004 to Baseball | TrackBack

Being a bit of a genealogy buff myself, I started looking at some Census data myself to dig a bit more. In Providence, RI in 1880, there is a William E. White, a student aged 19, born in Georgia. This is almost certainly the William Edward White who played a game for the Providence nine in 1879.

The 1880 census lists him as white and living in the household of an Asa Morse. But was he white? It would seem that at most, he probably would have been one-quarter black by blood (born to a white father and a mulatto mother). So I guess if we use the "one drop" test, he would have been a black player, yes. But he almost certainly would have been more fair-skinned than the Walker brothers, and of other contempraries such as George Stovey.

One last curiosity: your entry mentioned that A.J. White had 70 slaves in 1880. How could anyone have had any slaves after 1865?

Posted by: Tim on February 2, 2004 2:03 PM

Word. Posts like this one are why I read blogs.

Posted by: Another Rice Grad on February 2, 2004 2:07 PM