Sports history in Black: Willie White

By Mike Patton

Black News & Views

Most people do not associate Willie White with professional baseball history. But historians are raising questions about his status in the sport during the 19th century.  Jackie Robinson is considered the man who broke the color barrier in baseball. But White, who played baseball with Brown University, should be celebrated as well as Robinson. On this day in 1879, White took to the field as a substitute player with little to no attention from his teammates.

Willie White in 1879 with the Brown University baseball team Photo credit: Brown University
Willie White may have been the first Black person to break the baseball color barrier. Photo credit: Brown University

This is important because data from the Society of Baseball Research suggests White was a Black man who was passing as a white American. Had he identified as a Black American, he would not have had the opportunity to play the game with white teammates. The infielder played one game for the Providence Grays on this day. With this new research, questions are being raised about who was actually the first to break the baseball color barrier.

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