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Bud Fowler, the first professional black baseball player with one of his teams, the Keokuk, Iowa team of the Western League

Bud Fowler (March 16, 1858 - February 26, 1913), born John W. Jackson, was a baseball player and baseball club organizer, the first known African-American professional player. He played more seasons and more games in Organized Baseball than any black man until Jackie Robinson broke the color line in 1946 and played his 11th season in 1956.

John Jackson was born in Fort Plain, New Yorkmarker, moved to Cooperstown, New Yorkmarker the next year, and learned baseball there. Why he selected the name Bud Fowler is unknown. According to biographer L. Robert Davids, he gained the nickname "Bud" because he called the other players by that name.

Fowler is first mentioned as a player in April 1878 when he pitched for a team in Chelsea, Massachusetts. Later that month, he pitched a game for the Lynn Live Oaks against the Boston Nationals. He finished that season with Worcester. Largely supporting himself as a barber, he continued to play for teams in New England and Canada for the next four years.

In 1883, Fowler played for a team in Niles, Ohio, and in 1884 in Stillwater, Minnesota.

Fowler died in Frankfort, New Yorkmarker on February 26, 1913 after a time of illness and poverty that received national attention.

He is referred to in Marilynne Robinson's novel, "Gilead."


  • Christian, Ralph J. (2006). "Bud Fowler: The First African American Professional Baseball Player and the 1885 Keokuks". Iowa Heritage Illustrated, 87(1): 28-32.
  • Davids, L. Robert (1989). "John Fowler (Bud)". Nineteenth Century Stars. Edited by Robert L. Tiemann and Mark Rucker. Kansas City, MO: SABR. ISBN 0-910137-35-8
  • MiLB article

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