Last African American Until Jackie Robinson
After their 1883 championship campaign, Toledo was quickly invited to join the American Association, which, along with the National League, was the top level of professional baseball at the time. Walker and the Blue Stockings could not repeat their successes from 1883, with Walker hitting only .263 (an improvement) and doubling his error total in an injury-marred year that saw Toledo finish soundly in the cellar.
In addition to the injuries and poor play, Walker once again had to fight the scourge of racism on road trips to cities such as St. Louis; Richmond, VA.; and return trips to Louisville. Although some cities, such as Baltimore and Washington D.C., welcomed Walker, others did not. In one incident in Richmond, the Blue Stockings were advised not to play Walker because of a promise of "75 men sworn to mob Walker if he comes on the grounds."
Walker’s career in Toledo came to an end in 1885 and he left to join the Cleveland Western League franchise. Walker hit .275 that season (his best professional average) and continued to play his usual stellar defense. Walker ’s intellect was also put on display that season, as he was able to persuade his new team to fight the local "blue laws" that were threatening to bankrupt the team.
Unfortunately for Walker, baseball at this time was financially volatile, and the Western League quickly folded after the 1885 season. Fleet was able to play for ball clubs in Waterbury, Ct. in 1886 and later in Newark in 1887. In 1887, Walker would catch George Stovey, an African American pitcher, on his way to a league record 35-win season, while hitting .264 himself and still playing stellar defense.
1887 would not, however, end positively for Walker, as he again crossed paths with Cap Anson. Charles Hackett, the manager of the Newark club, stood his ground as Morton had in 1883, but this time, Anson and his team refused to play. Sadly, July 14, 1887 – the day the game was scheduled to be played – was also the same day that all new African American players were banned from International League play. This was not a popular decision in Newark and the surrounding area, where Walker had become a fan favorite. The Newark Daily Journal concluded that " Walker is mentally and morally the equal of any director who voted for the resolution."
Walker would finish out his career in Syracuse, once again encountering Anson in an exhibition game. This time, Walker was banned from playing. Although he played two more years in various independent leagues, by the end of the 1889 season, there was not a single African American player in professional baseball.
Moses Fleetwood Walker after Baseball
It has been rumored that Walker gave baseball two more years of his life, trying to play for independent teams in Terre Haute, IN and Oconto, WI, although no box scores or evidence can be found to prove this.
In 1891, Walker returned to Syracuse. One evening in April of 1891, while coming home from a local saloon, he was attacked by a group of white males. Walker killed one of the men in self defense. He was defended by the local sportswriters, as well as former legal mentor A.C. Lewis of Steubenville. Walker was acquitted on the grounds of self defense, but not without a stern warning from the judge to curb his growing reliance on alcohol.
The fortunes of the Walker family would only continue to get worse as Fleet moved back to Steubenville in late 1891 and resumed his work with the postal service. Just two weeks after the acquittal, Walker's father passed away in Detroit, where he had been living after separating from Carolina Walker. 18 months later, Caroline Walker passed away as well, only to be followed 18 months after her death by Fleet's wife, Bella Walker. In the span of three years, Walker had lost both of his parents and become a widower with three children. Three years later, he married Ednah Mason, whom he had met at Oberlin. But their honeymoon was short-lived, as Walker once again found himself in trouble with the law. This time he was found guilty of stealing mail and was sentenced to one year in prison. He made numerous appeals for his freedom, with one appeal going as far as the office of President William McKinley.
After the failure of the appeals and his release from prison, Fleet joined his brother Welday in his various ventures, which included running a hotel and a theatre and acting as an editor of The Equator, a weekly magazine on African American issues. It would be this activism in The Equator, coupled with the years of suffering due to racism, which would lead to Walker's most lasting achievement.
Walker's Literary Career
Fleet drew upon his education at various times while dealing with the racism and early Jim Crow that he repeatedly encountered. But at no time did the classical education that Moses and Caroline Walker desired for their children come to the forefront more than in the weekly journal The Equator and Fleet's pro-“Back to Africa” essay “Our Home Colony: A Treatise on the Past, Present, and Future of the Negro Race in America.”
The Equator, according to Welday, only lasted a short period of time, but it had a profound effect on Fleet. Unfortunately, no copies are known to exist. The journal would be a stepping stone to a far larger project: an eloquent plea for African Americans in America to return to Africa and settle in Liberia.
The theories found in “Our Home Colony” can be traced back to those of Bishop Henry McNeal Turner and his speeches and writings on the topic of African emigration. Turner would use his position in the African American political sphere to try and further the Back to Africa movement, at one point even convincing Southern politicians, some of whom had checkered racial pasts, to help gain government support for the movement. Walker was also learned on the other black leaders of the time, such as Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Dubois, who is referenced in the essay on various occasions.
An excellent synopsis of the main thesis of “Our Home Colony” has been provided by Scott M. Walter. Walter believed that although Fleet quoted DuBois' famous dictum "the problem of the Twentieth Century is the color line," Walker put forth a solution far different than DuBois' assimilation theories. Walker advocated the emigration of African Americans to Liberia, a country that had been created by the US on the Western coast of Africa. This policy would be less eloquently championed by Marcus Garvey less than a decade later.
Unfortunately, Moses and Welday never made it to Africa (some say they never even tried) and the movement never truly gained any footing, even during the time of Marcus Garvey.
Fleet spent the rest of his life running the Cadiz Opera House with his wife Ednah, who passed away in May of 1920. During this time, Walker still had to deal with the obvious racism in society, both through the segregationist policies that forced blacks to sit in the balconies of his theatre and in the minstrel shows and racist motion pictures of the times (such as Birth of a Nation).
Walker did live to hear of the great victories of boxer Jack Johnson over the legion of "great white hopes," but was unable to show the footage of them in his theatre due to a ban on interstate traffic of fight films (brought upon by a fear of a black uprising due to viewing Johnson's victories) after the Johnson-Jeffries fight in 1910.
In July of 1920, Walker, drawing on his mechanical engineering roots from Oberlin, was able to patent and sell an improved film reel that sped up the reel changing process in theatres.
Walker would spend the final months of his life traveling in New York, eventually returning to Ohio and settling in Cleveland, where he re-entered the theatre business, only to leave the business for good three months later. Although not much is known about the last two years of Walker's life, it is known that he passed away on May 11, 1924 of lobar pneumonia. Walker's body was buried next to Bella, and later his children and Welday, in what was an unmarked grave. In 1990, after a search for new members for their hall of fame, Walker 's beloved Oberlin purchased a tombstone for his grave, with the ceremony highlighted by a speech given by his grandnephew, who still resided in Steubenville.