Foul Lines: Baseball and Race in Jim Crow America

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Social History | Sports Sciences


In September 1887, a young man strode from a baseball dugout in Chicago, bat in hand, to face the major league pitcher awaiting him on the mound. Undaunted by the taunts of opponents and the jeering of fans, the ballplayer resolutely toed home plate and settled in for his at-bat--an event unheralded that day, yet remarkable in historical hindsight: a black man, Moses Fleetwood Walker, was playing in the majors sixty years before Jackie Robinson. Indeed, Walker's presence on this nineteenth century diamond hearkens to a pre-integration game filled with complicated racial distinctions, an era when various ethnic peoples--African-Americans, Japanese-Americans, Native Americans, and Cubans among them--muddied baseball's color line by embracing the national pastime. Beyond revealing the malleable nature of professional baseball's racial demarcations, however, this examination of baseball's interregnum period--between Walker and Robinson--illumines the myriad of places and ways Americans of color employed the game for their own distinct purposes, forging stronger ethnic identities from exclusionary treatment and demonstrating baseball's unique sway to both preserve and transform American cultures.


The slides for this presentation are not available.