FROM BEYOND BASEBALL'S COLOR BARRIER
EXCERPT: THE CURIOUS CASE OF WILLIAM WHITE
In 2004, as part of a large-scale project to find accurate personal information for every single person who appeared in a Major League Baseball game, researchers stumbled upon the idea that White might have been the first African American professional baseball player. The National League was just three years old at the time and although there are records of baseball games involving African American and white players, there had been no known Black Major League Baseball players to that date. When researching White’s information, researcher Bruce Allardice emailed SABR biographical researcher Peter Morris alerting him to the possibility of White’s racial makeup. Allardice found that an Andrew (AJ) White lived in Milner, Georgia where he owned 70 slaves. The 1860 census listed no children or wife for White. Ten years later, the next census listed a woman named Hannah White, who was living with her mother and three children, one of them was a nine-year-old named William White. Hannah was listed as bi-racial on the census.
That led researchers on a quest to convincingly link Hannah and William White to AJ White, confirming William’s parentage. That objective was realized when reading AJ White’s will. In it, he bequeaths his entire estate to “William Edward White, Ann Nora White, and Sarah Adelaide White, the children of my servant, Hannah.” According to racial classifications of the time, William was considered a “quadroon,” someone who is one-quarter Black. Complicating things though was that William identified himself as a white male on multiple census reports.
Calling White the first African American baseball player may be accurate based on laws of the time, but socially it’s difficult to make that distinction.
There is one missing piece of the puzzle that could cement this case further. According to the Chicago Tribune article, White played well in the game and it is known that Joe Smart, the man he filled in for, missed a significant amount of time. The next game was three days later in
Boston and White did not play for the team. A plausible theory is that White’s lineage was discovered, and he wasn’t permitted to play anymore. For now, that is just one unconfirmed theory among others.