Welcome to the first non-Jack London related edition of Ben’s Book Club. Today’s selection is something that my Minor League alter-ego had to read as part of a work assignment: David Zang’s biography of 19th century ballplayer Moses Fleetwood Walker.
Now, those who know me are aware that I could write many thousands of words on subjects such as 19th-century ballplayers. However, I realize that this is a comedy blog, and not the place for erudite and overly-wordy discussion on our National Pastime and how it has always served as a microcosm of American society. If I did that, Jenn’s friends would stop reading this blog entirely.
“Boring!”, they’d say between bong hits and slugs of cheap red wine.
But it’s not boring, Jenn’s friends. It’s fascinating. And, in particular, Moses Fleetwood Walker was about as fascinating as a person could be. In order to illustrate this, let me once again revert to quiz form.
All of the following statements about Moses Fleetwood Walker are true except one. Choose the false statement:
a. He murdered a man in a bar fight, but was acquitted by a sympathetic jury.
b. He was the first black player in the history of the Major Leagues.
c. He was at various points, the proprietor of a hotel, restaurant, and movie theater.
d. He ran for the Ohio Senate as a member of the Republican party.
e. He was a racial theorist who wrote pamphlets advocating that Black Americans re-locate to Africa
The answer is, of course, one click away
And the answer is D.
Walker was a lot of things, but he wasn’t a goddamned politician.
Now, the point of all this isn’t to get immersed in trivia for trivia’s sake. It is to illustrate just how tumultous, schizophrenic and strange life could be in the late 19th century, especially for a mulatto such as Walker.
America’s stance on race after the Civil War was a lot like the classic stoner comedy How High, in that it followed no coherent narrative whatsoever. Those in charge just sort of made things up as they went along, no matter how counter-intuitive and contradictory. In How High, this ultimately resulted in a truth-telling serum wreaking havoc at a snobby Harvard dinner. The vice-president of the United States danced lewdly in the vicinity of Benjamin Franklin’s recently unearthed giant bong until an inexplicably furious professor started attacking people with an axe.
And so it was for Fleet Walker. He came of age in a pre-“Separate but Equal”, Plessy vs. Ferguson America, and consciously made choices throughout his life (as a law student, ballplayer, inventor, and businessman) that illustrated his belief that people should be judged on merit and not race. He was headstrong and uncompromising.
But as he grew older he seemed to give up on America, and the promise it once had. He was tired of fighting for what he should have long ago earned. This is illustrated most vividly by the fact that in his later life he became a staunch advocate for the forced separation of the races. He believed blacks should return to Africa, as they were clearly not wanted or appreciated in the United States.
Walker’s life was a fascinating one, and, also like How High, deserves a lot more respect and appreciation than it currently recieives. An interest in baseball history is what usually brings people to Walker, but his story extends far beyond the playing field. Read up on him, please.
Now, look. I realize this book “review” was half-assed and perfunctory, and that I didn’t really write about the book at all. But, again, this is a comedy blog. I’m feeling kind of self-conscious writing like this. Jenn’s friends abandoned this post long ago, and have since moved on to MySpace and porn-based YouTube knockoffs (visited ironically, of course). I’ll miss you, ladies.
But, goddammit, I think Moses Fleetwood Walker is a very interesting individual. And, right now, at this moment, this blog is the best forum I have for getting that across. I’ve got to take advantage of what I got, just like Method Man and Redman did in How High when they resorted to smoking the pureed remains of John Quincy Adams.