Weldy Walker grave marker effort

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Images courtesy Craig Brown

How did the second African American to play in the major leagues end up in an unmarked grave in Steubenville, Ohio?

While SABR member Craig Brown can’t answer that “why” question, he can state positively that placing a marker on Weldy Walker‘s burial site is within in reach.

But it can only become reality if he, SABR and the Negro League Baseball Grave Marker Project receive help from us, the fans, historians and researchers who strive to keep the memory of the Negro Leagues alive.

Weldy Walker was the brother of Moses Fleetwood Walker, who became the first black player in what was considered major league baseball in 1884 with the American Association‘s Toledo Blue Stockings.

A few months after Fleet debuted in Toledo, Weldy was briefly added to the roster to become the second African American to play in the majors. (Here is an article I wrote about Weldy for the Oberlin College alumni magazine.)

Fleet died in 1924 and now rests in a marked grave in Steubenville. But Weldy, who passed in 1937, does not have a grave stone.

Last week I conducted an e-mail interview with Craig about the sad situation with Weldy’s grave and the growing effort to rectify it. Below is the text of our cyber conversation …

How did you come across Weldy Walker and his career? What first got you interested in him?

I learned about Weldy Walker as a result of my research into the life of his brother, Moses Fleetwood Walker. For about three years, I have been working with students to have Ohio have a law to designate a day in honor of Moses Fleetwood Walker. The bill is House Bill 87, and it has passed out of the [Ohio House of Representatives State Government] committee.

We are waiting for Speaker Cliff Rosenberger [R-91st District] to decide if it will be voted on by the entire Ohio House of Representatives. We have been assured by a representative of the speaker that he is aware of the bill, and the people have been vocal in their support. We can still use help encouraging him to bring the bill to a vote. It is best to contact him by traditional mail, but an e-mail will help. His contact information can be found at http://www.ohiohouse.gov/cliff-rosenberger.

How did you find out that Weldy’s grave is unmarked? What was your reaction to such a tragic situation for such an influential figure in baseball history?

I realized his grave was unmarked when I visited the site. Moses’ grave was marked by the Oberlin Heisman Club. There are several members of the Walker family buried in Union Cemetery [in Steubenville]. Moses has the only marked grave. I’m not sure if this was due to a cemetery rule from that era or if it was a financial issue.

It seems that the Walkers were very active in the community and were not destitute. It is unfortunate when any grave is unmarked, but Weldy’s situation is unsettling. He made a contribution to baseball, but he also was an early politically active African American and a voice for civil rights.

Remembering his name and knowing his story can help us connect with our past and better understand our present.

Nathan Marshall of Wellsburg, W.Va., approached me about doing more things to honor the Walker brothers a few months ago. Up until that point, I was focused on HB 87. His interest convinced me that buying Weldy a gravestone could have momentum, and this was possibly something we could do in a relatively short amount of time.

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How did you find out about the Negro League Baseball Grave Marker Project? How did you pitch a project on Weldy to Jeremy Krock?

I knew the Negro League Baseball Grave Marker Project existed via searching the Internet. Dr. Leslie Heaphy of Kent State [University] suggested I speak with Jeremy Krock. We connected via e-mail, and he was 100-percent supportive. Although we planned on raising the money for the grave before approaching SABR, we knew it would help our efforts if a donation system was already in place with a professional structure and legitimate record.

Why do you think Walker is buried in an unmarked grave? How did that come about?

I honestly don’t know. It is quite possible discriminatory practices were an issue, or perhaps the family just didn’t have the money. Weldy and Moses were close their entire lives. Their stones will match, and I believe that is fitting.

Are you optimistic about the prospects for success? Why or why not? What can the average person do to contribute to the effort?

We only need to raise $1,300. That isn’t bad. All donations are accepted and will go to memorializing this forgotten man. It is important that when making a contribution via the SABR site, the donor writes “Weldy Walker” in the comments.

[Editor’s note: After I published this post, SABR friend Ralph Carhart commented that Fleet and Weldy Walker might actually have been the second and third players, respectively, in the majors. He noted the case of William White, who played one game for the National League’s Providence Grays in June 1879. There’s ongoing debate about whether White, not the Walkers, was the actual trailblazer — the debate centers around whether White was black or, well, white.]

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