Although professional baseball in the North was virtually segregated between the end of the Civil War and 1890, a few African-Americans did play on minor league and major league teams during the period.
Even though the National Association of Base Ball Players, formed in 1867, had banned black athletes, by the late 1870s several African-American players were on the rosters of white, minor league teams.
The majority of these non-white players were denied membership by regional prejudices and a tacit segregation policy, but notable exceptions had impressive careers in white professional baseball.
In 1884, John W. “Bud” Fowler, an African-American with more than a decade’s experience as an itinerate, professional player, signed a contract with the Stillwater, Minnesota club of the Northwestern league.
Although Fowler Second base was his preferred position, he played virtually every position on the field for Stillwater. His baseball career continued through the end of the 19th Century, mostly with minor league clubs in organized baseball.
In 1883 Moses “Fleetwood” Walker began his professional career with Toledo in the Northwestern League. This former Oberlin College star was an above average hitter was among baseball’s finest catchers. When Toledo joined the American Association in 1884 Walker became the
first black player to play with a major league franchise.
In 1886 George Stovey and Frank Grant joined Fowler and Walker in the professional minor leagues, while other black players joined teams in the “outlaw” leagues and independent barnstorming clubs.
Until 1890, at least in the North and Midwest, the best black players, while not fully accepted, were tolerated in white baseball until the end of the 1880s.
Behind closed doors, in 1890, team owners and league officials conspired to make a “gentlemen’s agreement” that unofficially banned black players for the next five decades. This agreement brought all the leagues in line with the policy of the most prestigious league, ironically named the “International” League.
While Fowler, Walker, Grant and a few others African-American players found opportunities in in “organized” baseball, the vast majority of black players played in 200+ all-black independent teams all over America from the early 1880s forward.
Teams in the East, such as the powerful Cuban Giants, Cuban X Giants and Harrisburg Giants played both independently and in semi- organized leagues, until the early 1900s, when professional black baseball began to become popular throughout America’s heartland, even in the South.
“Jim Crow” was the name of the racial caste system which operated primarily, but not exclusively in southern and border states, between 1877 and the mid-1960s. Jim Crow was more than a series of rigid anti-black laws. It was a way of life. Under Jim Crow, African Americans were relegated to the status of second class citizens. Jim Crow represented the legitimization of anti-black racism.”*
Thus, despite the rare examples of black players with extraordinary skills, like Fowler, Walker, Stovey and Grant, who played on white rosters, blacks were essentially barred from “white baseball” under “Jim Crow” policies from the game’s inception [circa 1877] for nearly 90 years.