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Walter Johnson

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Walter Johnson
Walter Johnson 1924.jpg
Johnson with the Washington Senators in 1924
Born: (1887-11-06)November 6, 1887
Humboldt, Kansas
Died: December 10, 1946(1946-12-10) (aged 59)
Washington, D.C.
Batted: Right Threw: Right
MLB debut
August 2, 1907, for the Washington Senators
Last MLB appearance
September 30, 1927, for the Washington Senators
MLB statistics
Win–loss record417–279
Earned run average2.17
Managerial record529–432
Winning %.550
As player

As manager

Career highlights and awards
Member of the National
Empty Star.svg Empty Star.svg Empty Star.svg Baseball Hall of Fame Empty Star.svg Empty Star.svg Empty Star.svg
Vote83.63% (first ballot)

Walter Perry Johnson (November 6, 1887 – December 10, 1946), nicknamed "Barney" and "The Big Train", was a Major League Baseball right-handed pitcher. He played his entire 21-year baseball career for the Washington Senators (1907–1927). He later served as manager of the Senators from 1929 through 1932 and for the Cleveland Indians from 1933 through 1935.[1]

Often thought of as one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history, Johnson established several pitching records, some of which remain unbroken nine decades after he retired from baseball. He remains by far the all-time career leader in shutouts with 110,[2] second in wins with 417, and fourth in complete games with 531. He held the career record in strikeouts for nearly 56 years, with 3,508, from the end of his career in 1927 until the 1983 season, when three players (Steve Carlton, Nolan Ryan and Gaylord Perry) finally passed the mark. Johnson was the only player in the 3,000 strikeout club (achieved 22 July 1923) for 51 years (less 5 days) when Bob Gibson recorded his 3,000th strikeout on 17 July 1974. Johnson led the league in strikeouts a Major League record 12 times—one more than current strikeout leader Nolan Ryan—including a record eight consecutive seasons.[3] He is the only pitcher in major league history to record over 400 wins and strikeout over 3,500 batters.

In 1936, Johnson was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame as one of its "first five" inaugural members. His gentle nature was legendary, and to this day he is held up as an example of good sportsmanship, while his name has become synonymous with friendly competition.

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  • ✪ African American Experience Lecture Series - Walter Johnson
  • ✪ Walter Johnson
  • ✪ To Be Sold, part 3: Walter D. Johnson, New Orleans keynote


Good evening everyone, my name is Keona Ervin. I'm an assistant professor of African American History also a faculty affiliate in the department of Black Studies here at MU. On behalf of my colleague and co-director Dr. Gary Kremer, who is the director of the State Historical Society of Missouri we thank you for coming. We're delighted to have Dr. Walter Johnson give the final lecture of the of the Spring 2016 season of the African American Experience in Missouri. We wish to extend our deepest thanks and sincere appreciation to UM Interim President Michael Middleton. who is here tonight with Dr. Julian Middleton Interim Chancellor Dr. Hank Foley who is also here tonight. Chuck Henson, Interim Vice Chancellor for Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity Chief Diversity officer, Noor Azizan-Gardner Mary Ellen Lohmann, Strategic Communications Manager at the State Historical Society of Missouri. Rebecca Calvin, media and strategic communications manager for the Chancellor's diversity initiative. We would also like to thank the many colleagues, students, and friends who helped to spread the word about this series. A collaboration of the State Historical Society of Missouri's Center for Missouri Studies As well as the University of Missouri's division of Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity. The lecture series explores the history of black Americans in Missouri. From the earliest period of statehood to the present. Over the course of three seasons we will host about a dozen scholars who will give presentations on everything from slavery to political activism, the meaning of race, to urban decline, and the rise of jazz culture, to the history of black institutions. Our lecture series developed in response to campus protests over racial issues at MU, and at other colleges and universities across the country and also to the events in Ferguson. It is no coincidence that Missouri became ground zero for black political insurgency. and the emergence of national debates about racialized poverty, and urban and suburban inequality particularly those that emphasized history and the systemic nature of such issues. In fact tonight's speaker played an important role in deepening our understanding by writing a brilliant piece for "The Atlantic" that explored the history of Ferguson. If our lecture series had a thesis, it would be that a working knowledge of the history of Missouri, particularly through the lens of black experiences, and also the ways that the state constructed racial inequity, embedding it in major institutions, is key to understanding the history of race and racism in America. Contemporary headlines tell the story, Missouri as microcosm of student activism, of community based activism, of income disparity and of our racially and politically polarized country as one writer put it. Historians such as Walter Johnson are showing that these realities have historical foundation. They are rooted in the past. So after summer break, the series will begin its Fall 2016 season with lectures by Lea Vandervelde of the University of Iowa, who will speak on free black experiences in Missouri, drawing upon St. Louis freedom suits and the life of Harriet Scott, the second wife of Dred Scott. Miller Boyd of the University of Mississippi will deliver a lecture on the experiences of black Missouri soldiers during the Civil War. and Bryan Jack of the Southern Illinois University–Edwardsville will speak on the Exodusers movement or black migration to St. Louis and other points to the West, during the late 19th Century. Now to tonight's talk. Walter Johnson is Winthrop Professor of History, professor of African and African American Studies, and director of the Charles Warren Center for Studies in American History. He is a historian who has been on the Harvard faculty since 2006. Previously, he was at New York University after earning a Bachelor's degree from Amherst College and a PHD from Princeton University. Johnson's books, "Soul By Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market," and "River of Dark Dreams: Slavery and Empire in the Cotton Kingdom," are the recipients of numerous awards, including the Francis B. Simkins Award from the Southern Historical Association, the John Hope Franklin Prize from the American Studies Association, the John Hope Franklin Prize from the American Studies Association, the SHEAR Book Prize from the Society of Historians of the Early American Republic, and the Frederick Jackson Turner and the Avery O. Craven Prizes from the Organization of American Historians. He is currently writing a book about the central role of St. Louis in the imperialist and racial capitalist history of the United States, from Lewis and Clark to Michael Brown. Professor Johnson is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship; fellowships from the American Philosophical Society, the Radcliffe Institute, and the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences; and a Mellon Fellowship in Cultural Studies at Wesleyan University. Johnson was born in Columbia, Missouri, and is a graduate of Rock Bridge high school where, in 2006, he was inducted into the school's Hall of Fame. Please note that a book signing will immediately follow Professor Johnson's talk. Please join me in welcoming him to the podium. [APPLAUSE] [Walter Johnson] Thank you all for coming Its nice to be here, nice to be back, and nice to see old friends. I want to start on a different kind of note. I want to start in remembrance for my friend Keith Weich He was a friend of mine in Columbia taken from us too soon, with the heroism that I was not old enough to recognize at the time. Played with me, sat with me, in many different kinds of contexts. Historically in terms of Columbia, Keith was the unlucky 9th grader who integrated the Columbia Junior Cotillion. With, I think, with a set of tragic painful experiences for him that I only dumbly understood at the time. I want to have just a moment of silence in memory of Keith and all the other kids who grew up with us in Columbia. I have changed the title. The title is "White Fear and Race War in the Time of Dred Scott." I'm going to read first, an epigraph from W.E.B. Du Bois's, "Black Reconstruction in America." If you haven't read, "Black Reconstruction in America," you should go on your way home to the bookstore and get it and read it. It is the greatest book ever written about American history. Before the wide eyes of the mob is ever the Shape of Fear. Back of the writhing, yelling, cruel-eyed demons who break, destroy, maim and lynch and burn at the stake, is a knot, large or small, of normal human beings, and these human beings at heart are desperately afraid of something. Of what? On the 28th of April 1836, Francis McIntosh, a free Black steward aboard the steamboat Flora, alighted in the levee in St. Louis. Best as any one could later tell, as McIntosh crossed the levee and walked into town he was overtaken by a pair of sailors, who were running from the police. Whether he impeded the police, ignored their shouted commands to help them, or simply did not understand what was happening around him, McIntosh was taken into custody by Deputy Sheriff George Hammond and Deputy Constable William Mull. As they neared the jail, McIntosh drew a knife from his coat, and cut Hammond’s throat. He then turned to Mull, driving his knife upward into the constable’s stomach as the white man bent to shield his dying partner. McIntosh began running down Fourth Street, toward Market, passing as he did across the front of the courthouse square where a decade later Dred Scott would file suit against his owner. He made it as far as Walnut Street before he was surrounded, taken to jail, and locked in a cell. Outside the jail, a crowd began to gather. There were later reports that Hammond’s widow and orphaned children were there, and that their keening grief enraged the crowd. A group of men soon forced their way inside, overwhelmed the Sheriff, and pulled McIntosh out. They dragged him a couple of blocks up Chestnut Street, and tied him to a tree. Members of the neighborhood fire company stacked wood around his feet. McIntosh was silent while they worked. Only as the flames rose around him did he begin to pray and then to scream. Some of those who watched in the crowd later remembered that he had continued begging to be shot even after his eyes had burned in their sockets. The lynching of Francis McIntosh transfixed the nation. Elijah Lovejoy, who would later become celebrated as the nation’s first (white) antislavery martyr, detailed the murder and its aftermath in a series of articles published in his newspaper, the St. Louis Observer. Perhaps it was this sort of coverage that made Lovejoy, an outspoken opponent of slavery, persona non grata in St. Louis. By the end of May, public pressure had forced Lovejoy to leave St. Louis for Alton, Illinois, across the Mississippi River. In November of the following year, a St. Louis mob crossed the river and set fire to the Illinois warehouse where Lovejoy kept his printing press. When Lovejoy tried to save the building from burning, someone shot him; as he lay dying, the mob carried his press down to the banks of the Mississippi, broke it into pieces, and threw it in. No one was ever convicted of his murder, which John Quincy Adams termed “a shock as of an earthquake throughout the continent.” Both murders caught the attention of twenty-eight year-old Abraham Lincoln, a legislator in the Illinois House of Representatives known mostly at that point for his strong support of African colonization, the idea that free people of color in the United States should be sent “back” to Africa. In January of 1838, Lincoln delivered a speech before the Young Men’s Lyceum in Springfield on the theme “the Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions,” which has since become known as “The Lyceum Speech.” It remains one of the most pointed and eloquent defenses of the rule of law recorded in the annals of the history. Of McIntosh Lincoln wrote, “His story is very short, and is perhaps the most highly tragic of anything of the length that has ever been witnessed in real life. A mulatto man, by the name of McIntosh, was seized in the street, dragged to the suburbs of the city, chained to a tree, and actually burned to death; and all within the single hour from the time had been a free man, attending to his own business, and at peace with the world.” Lincoln well knew that McIntosh was a dead man the moment he cut Hammond’s throat: he would never have left the St. Louis County Jail alive. But the way he had died, the public and violent exercise of white supremacy beyond law, had an import beyond the plain fact of his death. “This mobocratic spirit,” Lincoln wrote, would eventually drag down the innocent with the guilty, it would destroy “the walls erected for the defense of the persons and property of individuals, “ and, finally and tragically, it would cause even the best Americans to lose faith in their government. “Whenever the vicious portion of the population shall be permitted to gather in bands of hundreds and thousands, and burn churches, ravage and rob provision stores, throw printing presses into rivers, shoot editors, and hang and burn obnoxious persons at pleasure and with impunity, depend on it: this government cannot last.” As he would twenty years later in Springfield, when he invoked the notion of a “house divided” to describe the nation’s predicament, Lincoln alluded to domestic space to illustrate his understanding of historical time. “Let reverence for the laws, be breathed by every American mother, to the lisping babe, that prattles on her lap.” And then, most famously: “In short, let it become the political religion of the nation.” And, like Christianity, the lessons of political religion were embodied in the mortification of the flesh. The lessons of the American Revolution, Lincoln argued, had been carried forward to succeeding generations in the form of “the limbs mangled, the scars of the wounds received . . . a history that could be read and understood alike by all, the wise and the ignorant, the learned and the unlearned.” But the Revolutionary generation had passed on, and with them the object lessons provided by their “mutilated limbs.” In their stead, Lincoln feared, had been placed the body of Francis McIntosh: “his body, or the remains of it,” left “at the place of execution;” the burned tree left standing on the corner of Seventh and Chestnut for years after that, an attraction for whites traveling on their way west, a forbidding warning for blacks who had the misfortune to pass it by, some of whom bravely adorned it with yellow ribbons The body of McIntosh was a lesson. In St. Louis, that mute lesson was given voice by the judge who presided over the grand jury that investigated the lynching -- a judge named, with a grim irony, Lawless. When it came time to instruct the grand jury about their legal responsibilities, Judge Lawless foreshadowed Lincoln’s premises. A lynch mob was “a force unauthorized by law;” and burning alive “a mode of death forbidden by the Constitution.” But, unlike Lincoln, Lawless discerned in the burning of McIntosh “a principle of even higher import to the community . . . a higher law” than the Constitution. The mob had responded at once to the murder of Hammond and “similar atrocities committed in this and other states by individuals of negro blood against their white brethren." According to Lawless, McIntosh himself had been the “incendiary,” that's the word the Lawless used, the product of the exposure of the “fiery, unreasoning mind” of a free Negro to the “doctrine of abolition.” And on the other side of the brand that actually set McIntosh alight, higher law, law beyond the Constitution or human reason itself: “a mysterious, metaphysical, and almost electric frenzy,” which we ourselves might call whiteness. That was the explanation that Lawless gave to the grand jury and that was explanation enough for the grand jury, which brought no indictment in the murder of McIntosh. Understood that way, the actions of the lynch mob were consonant with the Constitutional thought that had framed the entry of the state of Missouri to the union in the first place. For the debate over Missouri statehood had from the first been framed by an overarching set of white fear and images of race war. On February 13, 1819, New York Representative James Tallmadge added a rider to the Missouri Statehood bill that came to consume Congress for almost a year, and shaped the legal history of slavery and the Constitutional history of the United States for the next forty-five years. Missouri should be admitted to the union only “provided, that the further introduction of slavery or involuntary servitude be prohibited, except for the punishment of crimes, whereof the party shall have been fully convicted; and that all children born within the said State, after the admission thereof into the Union, shall be free at the age of twenty-five years." As is well-known, the Missouri question was the subject of a fierce debate in the United States Congress, one that ranged widely across the philosophical and practical questions facing a nation that was, at once, pledged to “freedom” and mortgaged to slavery. Historians have generally treated the Missouri debates as an episode in the history of sectionalism, of the emergence of what Jefferson called “a geographical line, coinciding with a marked principle, moral and political." In the admission of Missouri, he continued, the “knell of the Union” was sounded -- a note that might be temporarily “hushed” by compromise, but could never be unstruck. Indeed, where it had been possible in the South before 1820 to be a qualified opponent of slavery, after the Missouri debates, no Virginian or Carolinian or, still less, Mississippian or Louisianan who valued their safety would speak out about abolishing slavery. The admission of Missouri, as the leading historians of the Compromise has written, “called the South into being.” Because of its obvious sectional aspect, the sharp words used in the debate have generally been read as premonitions of civil war. Representative Cobb’s invocation of a sin which “all the waters of the oceans cannot wash out, which only blood can wash away” sounds like a presentiment to those who know that Lincoln would later state that the nation needed balance “every drop of blood drawn with the lash” with the sea of bloodshed in the Civil War. But the men who debated the Missouri Compromise knew only dimly that they were on their way to civil war, if they knew it at all. More familiar fears shadowed their steps. “This momentous question, like a firebell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror,” wrote Thomas Jefferson of Missouri. The image Jefferson used -- a firebell in a night -- was a fearful one for a slaveholder, who knew arson to be among the most murderous of the “weapons of the weak.” Early in Missouri debate, Edward Colston of Virginia interrupted a speech by Arthur Livermore to warn the Representative from New Hampshire that his speech might incite slaves listening in the gallery to revolt; indeed, to suggest that a such speech might justly end in a hanging. Tallmadge responded with a speech that used the words “servile war” repeatedly – almost gratuitously, in suggesting that American “empire” could stretch to the Pacific as one strengthened by the loyalty of its free Black population or threatened by the revolt of its slaves. For these men, who did not know the end of the story, the Missouri question was, from the beginning, edged with white fear and the possibility of slave revolt - with race war. “We have a wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go,” wrote Jefferson at the time of the Compromise. Once the forces of compromise and union had mustered bare majorities in both houses of Congress, Missouri had been balanced by Maine, and a line at 36 degrees 30 minutes had been drawn westward to the Pacific and forward into perpetuity, Missouri was given permission to draft a state constitution. Missouri’s first constitutional convention was held in the Mansion House Hotel in St. Louis, it lasted thirty-eight days and produced a document that threatened to un-ravel the delicately balanced Congressional compromise that had been almost a year in the making. In addition to sanctioning slavery, the Missouri Constitution of 1820 directed the legislature of the new state “to prevent free negroes and mulattoes from coming to and settling in this State, under any pretext whatsoever.” This provision reflected the particular sort of Negrophobia that defined the non-slaveholding and working-class white population of the state of Missouri and the city of St. Louis, migrants who had come to Missouri in the years after 1816, seeking land and economic advancement; among them many whose hopes had been diminished – or dashed – by the depression in 1819. Angry, entitled, wounded white men whose own interests had an unsteady relationship to those of slaveholders: men who might hold out hope of one day becoming slaveholders, but also men for whom the political preferment of slaveholders was an occasionally galling constraint on their own ambition and sense of racial entitlement. Many of the new Missourians were migrants from Virginia, where representation in the state legislature had, like representation in the U.S. Congress under the three fifths clause, been apportioned on the basis of population rather than suffrage – a marked advantage to slaveholders, who lived in districts where there was a much larger number of people than there were voters. In Missouri things would be different. Along with the provision forbidding the in-migration of free people of color, the Constitution of 1820 contained a provision apportioning representation in the Missouri House and State Senate according to a census of the state’s “free white male inhabitants.” Missouri, under the Constitution of 1820, was ruled by and for white men, not simply slaveholders. “The cry has been raised – ‘Missouri for white men!” recalled the free Black barber and chronicler of Black life in St. Louis, Cyprian Clamorgan. This was the emergent ideology of the white republic. St. Louis, in particular, was increasingly dominated by wage-working white men. In 1820, the were just over 8,200 whites in St. Louis County, as compared to 1,810 enslaved people and 225 free people of color. By 1860, the census taken in the county recorded 182,000 free whites, 182,000 whites, 3,800 slaves, and 2,100 free people of color. No other Southern city had such a small proportion of slaveholders among its white population – in St. Louis only about 14% of white households contained a slave, in Charleston, the comparable figure was 75%. For non-slave holding and working-class white men, free Blacks were a barrier to high wages. The exclusion of their supposed competition was, for them, necessary to make Missouri a sort of white man’s reserve.” In order for Missouri to be admitted to the union, the constitution approved by the St. Louis convention had to be sent back to Washington and approved by the United States Congress. But, for many of those who had supported the Missouri compromise, the document they got back from St. Louis was simply unconstitutional. Article IV, Section 2 of the United States Constitution provides that “The Citizens of each State shall be entitled to all Privileges and Immunities of Citizens in the several States.” Termed the principle of “interstate comity,” in practice this clause means (and was in 1820 taken to mean) that individual states are not allowed to discriminate against the citizens of other states. The Missouri Constitution of 1820’s deliberate exclusion of the free Black citizens of other states declared that when it came to free people of color, the state of Missouri was a territory apart – unbound by the mutual comity that united the rest of the states. As such, the Constitution drafted at the Mansion House Hotel was a milestone in the legal history of both white supremacy and state’s rights. A long and pointed debate considered the fate of this apparently unconstitutional state constitution. And in February of 1821 the final admission of Missouri to the union was approved by Congress provided that the state constitution’s stipulated ban on free-Black migrants “shall never be construed to authorize the passage of any law . . . by which any citizen, of either of the states of this Union, shall be excluded from the enjoyment of any of the privileges and immunities to which such citizen is entitled under the Constitution of the United States.” So the Constitution is valid provided that it's unconstitutional provision is taken not to be unconstitutional. Throughout the antebellum period, the state of Missouri insistently curtailed the rights of free people of color. Under the 1835 revision of the Statutes of Missouri, free people of color were required to obtain licenses in order to reside within the state. Those found unlicensed within the state might be auctioned as runaway slaves (if they could not otherwise prove their freedom) or ordered to leave the state within three days. And in 1847, the state of Missouri reiterated the Constitution of 1820’s commitment to states’ rights and white supremacy: “no free negro or mulatto shall under any pretext, emigrate to this state from any other state or territory.” After 1847, it was the legal duty of every justice of the peace, county clerk, and judge in Missouri to violate the United States Constitution by enforcing that law. That the struggle over the Constitutional limits of white supremacy began in St. Louis should not be surprising. Nor should the fact that it began with the question of the territorial regulation of free black mobility: with the question of the spatial aspect of racial hierarchy. For the burgeoning economy of the city of St. Louis depended upon motion: upon dynamic, uncontrollable connections with the rest of the nation; upon proximity to both the North and the South, to slavery and to freedom; upon the Missouri and the Mississippi, trade with Indians and traffic in slaves; upon steamboats which brought white migrants from Virginia and the Ohio Valley, furs from the Dakotas and lead from Galena, and which sent barrels of pork, bottles of wine, bushels of grain, and thousands and thousands of people to market in New Orleans. On the levee in St. Louis, the Missouri Republican enthused in 1855,” the sugars of the South lay mingled with the cereals of the North, and the manufactures of civilization contrasted with the peltries of the Indians.” In the years between 1820 and 1860, the population of the city of St. Louis increased sixteen-fold, from 10,000 to 160,000, and in the same span of time, the value of real estate in the city increased ten-fold as well. Those values tracked the exponential growth of the river trade. The first upriver steamboat arrived on the levee in St. Louis in 1819; in 1855 there were 3,450 such landings -- more even than the city of New Orleans. The free Black people whom white Missourians so feared were, in many cases, strivers like themselves, although without the entitlement of white skin: firemen and cooks on the western waters, artisan barbers in the city’s hotels, or steamboat stewards (like Francis McIntosh). Described by Cyprian Clamorgan, the self-defined social luminaries of free-Black St. Louis were: Men like Albert White, “one of the most expert chin scrapers in the city,” who kept a shop on the corner of Fourth and Pine, near the courthouse. Or Frank Roberson, “one of the talking barbers,” who worked out of a shop in Barnum’s Hotel. Or Henry Alexander Meliee, a seller of vegetables, “much patronized by steamboatmen.” Or James Nash, the steward aboard the D. Perry, running packet service up and down the Missouri River. Or James Williams, “a good workman” with a weakness for driving his buggy too fast on the plank road north of town. Or women like Pelagie Rutgers, “a brown-skinned, straight-haired woman of about fifty years of age . . . fine looking, healthy, and . . .worth a half million dollars,” Rutgers was the owner of a mansion and a grand piano. Or Antoine Labadie, who began as a butcher and made a fortune shipping beef to the Southern market. In the aftermath of the 1847 code, which made further free Black immigration to Missouri illegal, many of these people – these striving, hard-working, fortunate people – had posted a one-thousand dollar bond as a condition of their residence in St. Louis. They lived in a condition of temporary exemption: awaiting removal. Exemplary of this remarkable group of people was James Thomas. Thomas was born a slave in Tennessee in 1827, the son of an enslaved woman and her owner, a white judge, who quickly transferred ownership of the child to one of his relatives. While still enslaved, Thomas had trained as a barber in Nashville. By the mid-1850s, he had gained his freedom and was running his own shop. And in July of 1857 he moved to St. Louis. Three months earlier his father, Judge, now Justice, John Catron, had joined Chief Justice Roger Taney and the rest of the majority of the United States Supreme Court in declaring that Thomas, (his son Thomas) along with every other Black person in the United States of America, “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” By the time he sat down in 1903 to write his autobiography, Thomas had gained and lost a fortune. In St. Louis, he had waited a decade to marry the woman he loved, the daughter of Pelagie Rutgers, the owner of the grand piano, whose opposition to Thomas ended only with her death in 1868. As long as she lived, her daughter was forbidden to marry any man who had been born a slave. Through the 1860s and 1870s, Thomas invested the money he made as a barber and the money that came to him through his eventual marriage in real estate. By 1873 he owned six apartment buildings St. Louis, and was described in the New York Times as “the richest Negro in St. Louis.” He traveled extensively in Europe – London, Paris, Venice, Milan, Vienna – and eventually bought and earned income from two full city blocks in downtown St. Louis. All the while, even as he became one of the richest Black men in the United States, he continued to cut hair in his “first-class” barbershop in the basement of one of the city’s finest hotels. The Panic of 1893 and an 1896 tornado, which touched down precisely on his property, ended Thomas’s run. He spent the final years of his life in a sparsely furnished apartment in the last of the buildings he owned downtown, surrounded by the memories he recorded on loosely organized sheaves of paper. Barbershops were Thomas’s domain. These were spaces of comfort, service, and aspiration for the white traders and travelers of the Mississippi and Missouri Valleys. He was the Black man who cared for them, made them feel important and at ease, even as he lathered around their noses and their eyes, and then drew a straight razor across their necks. It was his business to know white men, and he observed them keenly, the way they all kept their papers in their hats and wore their cravats wrapped twice around their necks, the way they would cavil and complain if a barber forgot to wash his hands or if his breath “smelt of Onion or his hands of a common cigar.” He noticed the way that “they had to be shaved low on the neck” to stem the tide of “hair on the chest that didn’t know where to stop;” the “tuft of hair in each nostril, which had to be cut, the hair in “either ear,” and across the top, the eyebrows so long that he wondered that his clients did not “wear a bandage to keep their Eyebrows up out of their eyes;” he noticed the hair on the ends of their noses. Even as he recoiled at the way they picked their noses or dribbled tobacco juice on the ruffles of their shirts, Thomas treated these men with elaborate courtesy and respect. “The barber was safe so long as he showed a cheerful willingness to please,” he wrote. Over his career, Thomas developed strong opinions about the ways in which “gentlemen” (and his autobiography must contain the word gentleman 17,000 times) should and should not act. He met “merchants, professionals,” and planters, politicians, and a few “gamblers of the gentleman class.” He listened to their stories and received their advice, “whether asked or not.” Chiefly, it seems, at least in Nashville, they talked about Andrew Jackson. For Thomas, the barbershop was “the best of all places to learn the ways and peculiarities of the old time gentlemen,” what W. E. B. DuBois would later call “the Souls of White Folk.” It is clear from his autobiography that Thomas respected and even admired many of the white men he shaved and served. He was proud to be picked up in the carriages of leading men, admitted to their houses, given fruit and flowers, and asked to cut their hair and that of their guests. He developed a web of deference and tribute with the white men who spent time in his chair. And when the privileges and even the very existence of free Blacks came under increasing attack in the after math of the Dred Scott decision, Thomas and those like him kept their heads down and “stayed in near touch with their white friends to have a good word spoken for them.” It should go without saying that Thomas was a color snob. His autobiography is mostly free of the sort of minstrel show japes that deform so much of the writing of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. But only because Thomas had so little to say about enslaved people. His autobiography, like his life, was hedged in by the politics of class and color, socially structured by the differences between wealthy free Blacks like himself, and the darker-hued, rougher-living folks he termed “old-time Negroes.” Unrealistically for a man who spent a decade waiting for the mother of the woman he loved to die, so strong was her objection to her daughter’s love for a man who had been born a slave, Thomas blamed the dark and the poor for the social distance between them. The “Blacks,” he remembered, “abused the mulattoes. They called them ‘no nation’ and all kinds of hard names.” Thomas’s view of poor and working-class whites was framed by his experience in barbering and the views of his wealthy white clients. “[A] Gentleman would not have a white man around him as a waiter or barber. They wanted nothing to do with a white man who could not rise above that. . . If a white man came towards him to shave him, he would jump out of the chair . . . The true Southern gentleman had no use for poor white people.” Thomas wrote.. Thomas obviously approved, as, he remembered did most of “the Blacks,” who called poorest whites trash and those with little more “strainers.” These whites, he recalled, generally resented free Blacks, whom they viewed as jumped-up pretenders who stole work from those rightfully entitled to it by the color of their skin. “If I could get a hold of that negro, I would take him down a peg or two,” he remember them saying, or “you fellows must remember, this is a white man’s country.” Thomas located their source of white racial enmity in economic competition, specifically the racially segmented labor market: in steamboats that would hire no whites because they “wanted the people traveling on their boat to be served by one whose origin was unmistakable,” and “gentlemen” who would send white laborers seeking work on their way with a patronizing pat on the back and a “well, my man, I’ll tell you I have the best mechanic in the state. The boy that does my work cost me a big price. He knows what I want and he does it.” Pushed to the margin of the economy, Thomas suggested, poor whites “attempted to bring themselves into notice of the better class” by policing the Blacks, arrogating to themselves the “duty to watch the Negroes as a matter of public safety,” shaking them down in the dark, waiting for someone to run away, gaining the reward for pulling them in. The working-class whites who made up the patrols and posses had come to understand public safety as a function of white supremacy, and their own police power as a source of both profit and pride. The “colored aristocracy” of St. Louis, this is Cyprian Clamorgan's words from his 1859 book of the same title, "The Colored Aristocracy of St. Louis." The “colored aristocracy” of St. Louis was not composed of revolutionaries. James Thomas built his fortune in a racially segregated real estate market. Antoine Labadie became rich selling beef to slaveholders. The stewards among them ran steamboats that carried slaves to market. The draymen pulled the spoils of empire across the levee and traded them for the plunder of slavery. And so on. And yet these strivers gave new life to the tensions that framed the Missouri debate on a daily basis: Their hard work, their wealth, their confidence, their style, their pretension, even their pettiness: all of these enflamed the resentment of the economically unsuccessful, the psychically wounded, and the racially entitled among the city’s white working-class. To a poor white man, Pelagie Rutger’s piano looked not like a musical instrument but like a like an insult. In 1859, the Missouri State Legislature approved what Thomas remembered as the “Free Negro Bill.” The bill provided for the removal of free people of color from the state. Those who remained in Missouri would be enslaved. “The property owned” by the removed and the enslaved was to be expropriated “and applied to the education of poor whites.” The St. Louis County Court “rounded up all the free Negroes,” and registered them in anticipation of the law’s passage. Though never signed into law by the Governor, the 1859 bill stood as a warning of what whiteness could do. It was a reminder that James Thomas himself probably did not need. Standing in his shop, Thomas could look out the window onto Fourth Street where he had frequently seen Dred Scott. Up until the time of Dred Scott, the Missouri state courts usually decided the cases of slaves suing for freedom according to a precedent established in an 1822 decision that came to be known as “Winny’s Case.” Winny was born a slave in the Carolinas, and taken by her owner to the Illinois Territory in 1793. She lived on the east bank of the Mississippi, between Cahokia and Kaskaskia, across the river from St. Louis. At the end of the eighteenth century, Illinois was still on the western edge of the American empire, and Winny’s owner was an Indian-fighting settler imperialist as well as a slaveholder. He was also living in territory governed by the Northwest Ordinance of 1792, which outlawed slavery in the Illinois territory. When he moved to St. Louis in 1818, Winny sued him on the basis that she had been legally free in Illinois and thus should be considered free ever after. And she won. Winny’s case became the precedent of choice for the litigants in about three hundred similar cases filed in the Missouri State courts during the nineteenth century, the vast majority of them in St. Louis, and the vast majority of them successful. The grounds upon which these freedom suits were filed were various. Some were filed by litigants who claimed that they were Native American, and had been wrongly enslaved in the backwash eddies of Indian removal; some claimed that they were born of free mothers, and that they had been falsely enslaved; some claimed that their owners had agreed to allow them to buy their freedom, but had pocketed the purchase price and continued to claim their labor and their lives; and, finally, the largest group, like Winny and the Scotts, claimed that they had traveled as slaves to regions of North America where slavery was forbidden by law, and that they had therefore become free. The causes for action in these cases reflected the social, economic, and imperial history of St. Louis. These were cases filed by slaves whose lives had followed the itineraries of U.S. imperialism and economic development. Dred Scott, was born in Southampton County Virginia in 1799, and moved with his owner’s family, the Blows, to St. Louis, where he was sold in 1830 to a doctor, John Emerson, who was attached to the U.S. Army at Jefferson Barracks. He traveled up river with Emerson in 1834, to Fort Armstrong in Rock Island, Illinois and then in 1836 up north to Fort Snelling, on the west bank of the Mississippi, near present-day Minneapolis. There he met Harriet Robinson. Harriet Robinson was born around 1815 in Virginia. As a teenager, she was designated to serve Ensign Lawrence Taliaferro, who had been stationed at the Indian Agency near Fort Snelling beginning in the 1820s. Taliaferro’s business at the fort was to oversee relations between the nearby Dakota and Ojibwa and the American Fur Company. It was at Fort Snelling that Dred Scott and Harriet Robinson met and were married in 1836. On the occasion of the marriage, Taliaferro transferred ownership of Harriet Robinson – now Harriet Scott – to Doctor Emerson, who left the newlyweds behind at Fort Snelling in 1837, when he traveled back to St. Louis. There they would stay for a long cold winter without any word from Emerson; as long as the river was frozen, so, too, was time. When the ice in the river broke up and the first steamboat of 1838 arrived at Fort Snelling, the Scotts received word that their owner had married in Louisiana and they were to travel down meet him. The Scott’s first child, a little girl named Eliza, was born aboard the steamboat Gypsy as they traveled south to meet Emerson. Another girl, Lizzie, was born at Jefferson Barracks seven years later. By 1840, Emerson and the Scotts had returned to St. Louis. In 1843, when John Emerson died, the Scotts became the property of his widow, Irene Sanford Emerson. Having tried and failed to purchase himself and his family in 1846, Dred Scott first filed suit in Circuit Court against Irene Emerson. In 1850, in accordance with a quarter century of precedents in the Missouri States courts, the Scotts were ruled free by virtue of the years they had spent in Illinois and the Wisconsin Territory. But, in 1852, the Missouri Supreme Court overturned the lower court, basing their decision largely on pragmatic grounds. The case came to courts swathed in the “the dark and fell spirit” of abolition, and it did not “behoove the State of Missouri to show the least countenance to any measure which might countenance this spirit.” Emancipating the Scotts, the Supreme Court decided, would be a threat to public safety.” In 1853, the Scotts re-filed the case in the Federal District Court in St. Louis, where the judges ruled that the case was one properly settled in state court, thus deferring to the 1852 ruling that the Scotts remain slaves. The Scotts appealed to the United States Supreme Court, where the case was heard in the December Term of 1856. The decision of the court was announced on March 6, 1857. For Chief Justice Taney and the six other justices who concurred with his decision, the principal issue at stake was the question of whether Dred Scott had any right to sue in the first place. The Chief Justice’s decision defined the right to seek redress in federal court as the sole prerogative of “citizens” of the United States. He argued that the framers of the Constitution had never intended that the “class of persons . . . whose ancestors were Negroes of the African race, and imported into this country and held in slavery” could “become entitled to all the rights and privileges and immunities” guaranteed the citizens of the United States. Would the founders have been so stupid that they gave members of the “African race” exemption from the “special laws” that regulated their behavior? Would they have allowed them to travel from state to state “without pass or passport,” and “go where they please at every hour of the day or night without molestation?” Would they have allowed them to “hold meetings upon public affairs and to keep and carry arms wherever they went?” Of course not, he answered himself, for so doing would inevitably have “endanger[ed] the peace and safety of the State.” Confusing Black men, even if emancipated, with citizens was dangerous; it was but a step from that to war. The solution to the problem of democracy amidst diversity, for Taney, was not Black citizenship, but Black slavery. “Being of an inferior order and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations, and so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect,” the Chief Justice wrote in the most notorious passage of his decision, Blacks had been (and were ideally suited to be) “treated as an ordinary article of merchandise and traffic whenever a profit could be made by it.” Slavery and race war were, for Taney, two sides of a single coin; and coins, he might have said, only have two sides. Like the debate over the Missouri Constitution of 1820, Chief Justice Taney’s decision hinged on Article IV, Section 2 of the United States Constitution and the question of the “privileges and immunities” of the citizens of the various states. For Taney, only the United States of America could make a “person” into a “citizen.” Whatever the rulers of any given state might choose to do with those residing within their borders, they could not make them “citizens,” for they could not speak for the rulers of other states in making such a determination. Thus the Constitution would not allow any single state to “embrace the Negro African . . . raise him to the rank of citizen, and immediately clothe him with all the privileges of a citizen in other state.” For Taney, “the Negro” stood exposed – naked – before “the dominant race . . . and had no rights or privileges but such as those who held the power and the government might choose to grant him.” Those who held the power and the government, he wrote, distinguishing between the two, and marking out a space for the exercise of power in excess of law. Whatever protections Blacks had resulted from acts of grace rather than rights tested at law; the Scotts, for example, gained their freedom only when an old owner bought and freed them of his own good will. As for their vulnerabilities, there was no suggested legal limit. For the black barber James Thomas, whose white father (and former owner) concurred in the decision, this was the lynching of McIntosh made sovereign over the entire United States: “That ‘the Negro has no rights that a white man is bound to respect’ is shown by the mob going after the Blacks and endeavoring to ‘wipe them out,’” he wrote. The Dred Scott decision reflected the politics of race and slavery in the city from which it emerged, a city in which fear and resentment of free Blacks was expressed as white-supremacist absolutism. The decision reduced the relations of white and Black to a question of force and suggested that whites strike first. And in its shadow, if we look carefully, we can see a familiar image. In the Chief Justice’s fantasy of free Blacks staging mass protests in front of the homes of slave owners, bearing arms in the middle of the night, and threatening the safety of the state; in the Missouri Supreme Court’s fear that the emancipation of a middle-aged man, his wife, and their two young daughters might encourage the “dark and fell spirit” of abolition; in the “Free Negro Law’s” outsized fear of seventeen hundred beleaguered free Black people living amidst one-hundred and fifty thousand whites; in Representative’s Colston’s fear that the bare mention of black citizenship in the Congress of the United States might incite eavesdropping slaves to rebellion; in the lynch mob’s fear that the killing of a white policeman by a Black sailor might be the spark that set alight an abolitionist inferno, is it not possible to see a premonition of the fear that haunts our society to this day? The fear of Eleanor Bumpurs. Of Sean Bell. Of Amadou Diallo. Of Trayvon Martin. Of Tamir Rice. Of John Crawford. Of Michael Brown. [APPLAUSE] [Keona Ervin] Thank you to professor Johnson for a wonderful lecture. We have a golden opportunity to engage with Dr. Johnson on some of the questions and issues raised in his lecture. So please, take advantage of the two mics we have down in the front. Dont be shy. I will throw out a first question. Im interested in some notions you brought up regarding free black mobility and the fears of free black mobility and its implications in black citizenship. Also the notion of freedom suits as linked to ways in which slaves and blacks are following itineraries of imperialism. So in a longer and partially still to be written version, chapter in my book, I talk quite a bit more about the character of slavery in and around St. Louis. And the argument there slavery in the 1830s, 40s, and 50s, is something close to a state of war. That is because it is very easy for slaves to escape from St. Louis. So they are governed by force. St. Louis according to William Wells Brown, who was enslaved in St. Louis was the first African American novelist. Who had traveled up and down the Mississippi Valley with a slave trader, said that slavery in St. Louis was more violent than any other slavery he had seen. Thats why in a place like Mississippi or Louisiana which are notoriously violent, which I would argue. There is a spatial aspect of slavery, it is very difficult to escape from the middle of Mississippi. Its not very difficult to escape from St. Louis. You just need to steal a skiff and cross the river. In St. Louis, force is very close to the surface. That force is exacerbated by the politics of slavery. By both the people who are trying to entice enslaved people away to freedom and abolitionists. But also through people doing something called slave stealing which is something in the 1840s and 50s which is either trying to kidnap free people of color and selling them to the slave trade. or by enticing away enslaved people who are owned by someone like Farmer Jones. And then selling them around to Farmer Brown, Farmer Green and so on. Each time convincing the enslaved person to run away, so its a sort of scam. So all of these things are happening and I think that makes white people in St. Louis anxious. Most notable in this regard is the Madison Henderson gang. It is a gang, and this moral panic among whites in St. Louis when there's the capture of the Madison Henderson gang. Its impossible to figure out what this gang actually did because the stories that come about it are large and fantastic. One story is that it is an army of counter fitters and they all have appeared to rob 6,300 banks independently and are responsbile for every arson committed in the Mississippi River Valley. So you cant tell exactly what happened, but what is clear is that there is a gang operated by 4 people who operate together on crimes such as robbing a few stores and maybe plan a couple of fixed card games. Who are both free people of color and slaves. Madison Henderson is an enslaved person who has traveled independently from New Orleans, to St. Louis, to Galena, to Burlington, Iowa, All over the valley, and because of the chaotic, violent character of slavery and also because of the things people have to do to make the economy work on account of steamboats... It is a very unsteady situation and that unsteadiness results in this kind of overwhelming white fear and violence. If you track the names of the cities I have mentioned, these are the cities involved with the United States empire of the 19th Century. Galena has lead mines, for example. So the raw material of the United States military is produced in Galena and Its no accident that this is a suit brought by Dredd and Harriet Scott by people who were enslaved by people who were on the one hand military officers and on the other hand a military officer who has been delegated to deal with the American Fur Company. As it turns out, John Sanford, the defendant in Dred Scott's case was one of the principles in the American Fur Company, which is the biggest Indian trading company in the 19th Century. I want to bring the history of that U.S. imperialism back into the history of slavery. [Audience Member] Thank you very much, first of all, for an excellent lecture. I wondered if you could comment on something I have observed as someone not from Missouri. I actually grew up in a northern state, but one that has, at least had at the time I was growing up there, almost no racial diversity other than, at least in terms of African Americans. Living in Missouri it has been curious to me that Missouri doesn't feel quite like a Midwestern state and its also not quite a southern state. It seems as though there's the sense that because Missouri never officially joined the Confederacy that somehow it deserves a pass in terms of its history with slavery. I wondered if you could comment at all whether about Missouri is indeed special in this kind of way. Relative to other slave states that were in the Confederacy, formally. [Walter Johnson] Missouri is unquestionably special To those who say that Missouri never joined the Confederacy, I would respond with Missouri never had a reconstruction. I would like to talk about the way in which Missouri is not simply, and this is the reason I chose to write about St. Louis, It is not that Missouri simply exemplifies so many of the things we think about as the history of white supremacy in the United States, It is that they actually happened in Missouri, and they actually happened in St. Louis. What struck me as I began to learn about the history of St. Louis, and I am a very new student of the history of St. Louis, is that the Missouri Compromise had this crucial chapter in St. Louis. The lynching of Francis McIntosh is arguably the first lynching of an African-American man in the United States in the kind of classic pattern, the lynching of Lovejoy is a very famous episode in the history of anti-slavery, Abraham Lincoln's Lyceum Address is a very famous speech, The Dred Scott case. Extend the list up to the 20th Century where Shelley v. Kraemer is one of the most important housing discrimination cases ever decided by the Supreme Court. In St. Louis is the first general strike in the nation in 1877. It is the archetypal race riot that W.E.B. Du Bois treated as the central event of the African American history of the first World War. It is the first sit down strike at Emerson Electric. And so for me, take that history right up to Ferguson, and take that history right up to the events at the University of Missouri last fall. So for me its that the history in which I am most interested in and invested turned out to have happened in Missouri. Now one of the things I would like to say about that is that I think that in Missouri there is, and I think that this is something Keona said right at the very beginning, There is a very strong, enduring, entrenched history of white supremacy in the state of Missouri which my talk tries to talk about. There is likewise, and I think that we need to remember and honor this, there is likewise in the state of Missouri a history and tradition of black radicalism. and it is the side by side character of those traditions, I think, that brings us to the moment over the last 3 or 4 years where Missouri has been the leading edge of the United States' tragic and inspiring history. When Michael Brown lay in the street for 4 hours people in St. Louis were organized. They were ready to respond and they responded for day after day after day in the fall of 2014. There was an existing organization there. That brought that confrontation into light. So that's really what I see in the history of the state. [Audience Member] After the court decided that Dred Scott should not be free and they decided that he should continue to be a slave, Did they also take away the freedom of other African Americans who had filed lawsuits and been given freedom? Did they take their freedom away? [Walter Johnson] I'm extremely gratified to have a question from a young gentleman in a tiger hat. [Laughter] So the Supreme Court's decision is binding on the state courts all over the nation. So what it does is that is says that those states, more or less, can make any law that they want regarding free black people. So it is possible for a state under the Dred Scott decision if what they want to do is to emancipate free black people who sue in their own state courts , but they do not emancipate them into the condition of "citizen". They emancipate them into the condition of "person." So what this does is it opens up a hole where you can be a slave and you can be emancipated, but when you're emancipated you cannot claim to be a citizen. and because you cannot claim to be a citizen, you are naked before the law. So if the state turns around and makes a law saying you have to give away all your property to make schools for poor white people, you have to give away all your property. There's no place to appeal. The precedent in the Missouri Supreme Court case, so the case I discussed from 1852 is a binding precedent to Missouri. And so this long line of freedom suits in Missouri comes to an end with Dred Scott. [Audience Member] I was surprised in hearing about the precedent prior to the Dred Scott trials, all these trials that provided freedom for slaves that sued, I'm wondering if there are circumstances that lead to that type of precedent and whether it was unique at least when compared to other states in the area. [Walter Johnson] Yes it is unique, most obviously when compared to Illinois. So one question would be why is it that Winny in 1822 or 1818, why is it in 1818 she waits? Shes in a state where legally there is supposed to be no slavery, even though there is slavery in Illinois, Why would she wait until she got to St. Louis to file suit when shes in a state where there is so much slavery? So part of what I would argue about that is that amidst this kind of chaotic, violent, confused situation surrounding the every day life of slavery in St. Louis. There are those who very much want to identify the institution of slavery with the rule of law. So I have emphasized those who are so interested in white supremacy that the rule of law is a secondary consideration. But there are many in St. Louis, and many of them are lawyers and some of them are judges who want say what we need to do if we want to preserve slavery is bring legal order to this institution. And what we can do by emancipating 300 people over the course of 40 years, is we can prove that the laws that enslave all of these people are just laws. In fact one of the lawyers who argues for Dred Scott says, more or less, exactly that. He says "I'm a slave holder, I'm believe in slavery, but I would rather die than see one person unjustly enslaved." And so there is a tension between those who are devoted to trying to prove out the justness of the laws and those who are devoted to doing whatever the hell they please in relationship to African Americans. [Keona Ervin] Lets thank Professor Johnson one more time [APPLAUSE] [Walter Johnson] Thank you very much, thank you all!


Early life

Walter Johnson was the second of six children (Effie, Leslie, Earl, Blanche)[4] born to Frank Edwin Johnson (1861–1921) and Minnie Olive Perry (1867–1967) on a rural farm four miles west of Humboldt, Kansas.[5] Although he was sometimes said to be of Swedish ancestry and referred to by sportswriters as "The Big Swede", Johnson's ancestors came from the British Isles.[6]

Soon after he reached his fourteenth birthday, his family moved to California's Orange County in 1902. The Johnsons settled in the town of Olinda, a small oil boomtown located just east of Brea.[7] In his youth, Johnson split his time among playing baseball, working in the nearby oil fields, and going horseback riding.[7] Johnson later attended Fullerton Union High School where he struck out 27 batters during a 15-inning game against Santa Ana High School.[7] He later moved to Idaho, where he doubled as a telephone company employee and a pitcher for a Weiser-based team in the Idaho State League. Johnson was spotted by a talent scout and signed a contract with the Washington Senators in July 1907 at the age of nineteen.

Playing career

Johnson was renowned as the premier power pitcher of his era. Ty Cobb recalled his first encounter with the rookie fastballer:

On August 2, 1907, I encountered the most threatening sight I ever saw in the ball field. He was a rookie, and we licked our lips as we warmed up for the first game of a doubleheader in Washington. Evidently, manager Pongo Joe Cantillon of the Nats had picked a rube out of the cornfields of the deepest bushes to pitch against us. ... He was a tall, shambling galoot of about twenty, with arms so long they hung far out of his sleeves, and with a sidearm delivery that looked unimpressive at first glance. ... One of the Tigers imitated a cow mooing, and we hollered at Cantillon: 'Get the pitchfork ready, Joe—your hayseed's on his way back to the barn.'

... The first time I faced him, I watched him take that easy windup. And then something went past me that made me flinch. The thing just hissed with danger. We couldn't touch him. ... every one of us knew we'd met the most powerful arm ever turned loose in a ball park.[8]

In 1917, a Bridgeport, Connecticut munitions laboratory recorded Johnson's fastball at 134 feet per second, which is equal to 91 miles per hour (146 km/h), a velocity that may have been unmatched in his day, with the possible exception of Smoky Joe Wood. Johnson, moreover, pitched with a sidearm motion, whereas power pitchers are usually known for pitching with a straight-overhand delivery. Johnson's motion was especially difficult for right-handed batters to follow, as the ball seemed to be coming from third base. His pitching mechanics were superb, generating powerful rotation of his shoulders with excellent balance.[9] In addition to his fastball, Johnson featured an occasional curveball that he developed around 1913 or 1914.[10] He batted and threw right-handed.

The overpowering fastball was the primary reason for Johnson's exceptional statistics, especially his fabled strikeout totals. Johnson's record total of 3,508[11] strikeouts stood for more than 55 years until Nolan Ryan, Steve Carlton, and Gaylord Perry all surpassed it in that order during the 1983 season. Johnson, as of 2017, ranks ninth on the all-time strikeout list, but his total must be understood in its proper context of an era of much fewer strikeouts. Among his pre-World War II contemporaries, only two men finished within one thousand strikeouts of Johnson: runner-up Cy Young with 2,803 (705 strikeouts behind) and Tim Keefe at 2,562 (946 behind). Bob Feller, whose war-shortened career began in 1936, later ended up with 2,581.

Walter Johnson in a 1909 portrait photograph
Walter Johnson in a 1909 portrait photograph

As a right-handed pitcher for the Washington Nationals/Senators, Walter Johnson won 417 games, the second most by any pitcher in history (after Cy Young, who won 511). He and Young are the only pitchers to have won 400 games.[12]

In a 21-year career, Johnson had twelve 20-win seasons, including ten in a row. Twice, he topped thirty wins (33 in 1912 and 36 in 1913).[13] Johnson's record includes 110 shutouts, the most in baseball history. Johnson had a 38–26 record in games decided by a 1–0 score;[14] both his win total and his losses in these games are major league records. Johnson also lost 65 games because his teams failed to score a run.[14] On September 4, 5 and 7, 1908, he shut out the New York Highlanders in three consecutive games.

Three times, Johnson won the triple crown for pitchers (1913, 1918 and 1924). Johnson twice won the American League Most Valuable Player Award (1913, 1924),[2] a feat accomplished since by only two other pitchers, Carl Hubbell in 1933 and 1936 and Hal Newhouser in 1944 and 1945.

His earned run average of 1.14 in 1913 was the fourth lowest ever at the time he recorded it; it remains the sixth-lowest today, despite having been surpassed by Bob Gibson in 1968 (1.12) for lowest ERA ever by a 300+ inning pitcher. It could have been lower if not for one of manager Clark Griffith's traditions. For the last game of the season, Griffith often treated the fans to a farce game. Johnson actually played center field that game until he was brought in to pitch. He allowed two hits before he was taken out of the game. The next pitcher – who was actually a career catcher – allowed both runners to score. The official scorekeeper ignored the game, but later, Johnson was charged with those two runs, raising his ERA from 1.09 to 1.14. For the decade from 1910–1919, Johnson averaged 26 wins per season and had an overall ERA of 1.59.

Johnson won 36 games in 1913, 40% of the team's total wins for the season. In April and May, he pitched 55.2 consecutive scoreless innings, still the American League record and the third-longest streak in history. In May 1918, Johnson pitched 40 consecutive scoreless innings; he is the only pitcher with two such 40+ inning streaks.[15]

Although he often pitched for losing teams during his career, Johnson finally led the Washington Nationals/Senators to the World Series in 1924, his 18th year in the American League. Johnson lost the first and fifth game of the 1924 World Series, but became the hero by pitching four scoreless innings of relief in the seventh and deciding game, winning in the 12th inning. Washington returned to the World Series the following season, but Johnson's experience was close to the inverse: two early wins, followed by a Game Seven loss. On October 15, 1927, Johnson's request for an unconditional release from the club was granted.[16]

President Calvin Coolidge (left) and Washington Senators pitcher Walter Johnson (right) shake hands.
President Calvin Coolidge (left) and Washington Senators pitcher Walter Johnson (right) shake hands.

Although his Hall of Fame plaque reads that he pitched 'for many years with a losing team,' during his career the Senators finished in the first division 11 times, and the second division 10 times. In Johnson's first five seasons, Washington finished last twice and next-to-last three times. But they finished second in the American League in both 1912 and 1913, which were Johnson's two 30-win seasons. Then, for the next decade, they typically finished in the middle of the pack before their back-to-back pennants.

Johnson was a good hitter for a pitcher, compiling a career batting average of .235, including a record .433 average in 1925. He also made 13 appearances in the outfield during his career. He hit over .200 in 13 of his 21 seasons as a hitter, hit three home runs in 1914, and hit 12 doubles and a triple in 130 at bats in 1917. Johnson finished his career with 23 home runs, the ninth-highest total for a pitcher in Major League history.

Johnson had a reputation as a kindly person, and made many friends in baseball. As reported in The Glory of Their Times, Sam Crawford was one of Johnson's good friends, and sometimes in non-critical situations, Johnson would ease up so Crawford would hit well against him. This would vex Crawford's teammate Ty Cobb, who could not understand how Crawford could hit the great Johnson so well. Johnson was also friendly with Babe Ruth, despite Ruth's having hit some of his longest home runs off him at Griffith Stadium.

In 1928, he began his career as a manager in the minor leagues, taking up residence at 32 Maple Terrace, Millburn, New Jersey, and managing the Newark Bears of the International League. He continued on to the major leagues, managing the Washington Nationals/Senators (19291932), and finally the Cleveland Indians (19331935). His managing record was 529–432, with his best team managed being in 1930, when the team finished 94–60, 8 games out of first place. In seven seasons, he had five winning seasons, with the only two losing seasons being at the beginning of his tenure with Washington and Cleveland, though his teams did not come close to winning the pennant, finishing 12 games behind in his last season. Johnson also served as a radio announcer on station WJSV for the Senators during the 1939 season.[17]

Baseball Hall of Fame

Walter Johnson pitching

Johnson was one of the first five players elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1936. Johnson, Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson, Babe Ruth and Honus Wagner were known as the "Five Immortals" because they were the first players chosen for the Baseball Hall of Fame.[18]


Walter Johnson retired to Germantown, Maryland. A lifelong Republican and friend of President Calvin Coolidge, Johnson was elected as a Montgomery County commissioner in 1938. His father-in-law was Rep. Edwin Roberts, a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives. In 1940 Johnson ran for a congressional seat in Maryland's 6th district, but came up short against the incumbent Democrat, William D. Byron, by a total of 60,037 (53%) to 52,258 (47%).[19]

Joseph W. Martin, Jr., before he was the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives from 1947 to 1949 and 1953 to 1955, recruited Johnson to run for Congress. "He was an utterly inexperienced speaker", Martin later said. "I got some of my boys to write two master speeches for him – one for the farmers of his district and the other for the industrial areas. Alas, he got the two confused. He addressed the farmers on industrial problems, and the businessmen on farm problems."[20]

Personal life

Walter married Hazel Lee Roberts about 1914 and they had five children.[21] His wife died in August 1930 from complications resulting from heat stroke after a long train ride from Kansas.[22]

At 11:40 pm, Tuesday, December 10, 1946[23] Johnson died of a brain tumor in Washington, D.C., five weeks after his 59th birthday, and was interred at Rockville Union Cemetery in Rockville, Maryland.[24][25]


Johnson circa 1910s
Johnson circa 1910s

A small high school baseball league in Kansas is named the Walter Johnson League. The League schools are Sedan High School, Oxford High School, Udall High School, West Elk High School, Flinthills High School, and Cedar Vale/Dexter High School.

  • A large recreation park (Walter Johnson Park) is named after him in Coffeyville, Kansas, where he maintained a part-time residence for several years.
  • The Bethesda Big Train, a summer collegiate baseball team based in Bethesda, Maryland, is named in his honor and features a Walter Johnson sculpture in front of their stadium.[26]
  • The baseball field in Memorial Park, in Weiser, Idaho, is called Walter Johnson Field.
  • Johnson was the first American League pitcher to strike out four batters in one inning.[27]
  • Johnson holds the record for most three-pitch innings by any major league pitcher with four.[28]
  • In 2009, a statue of Johnson was installed inside the center field gate of Nationals Park along with ones of Frank Howard and Josh Gibson.
  • The Walter Johnson baseball field in Humboldt, Kansas.
  • Walter Johnson Road in Germantown, Maryland.

He was also called "Sir Walter", "the White Knight", and "The Gentle Johnson" because of his gentlemanly sportsmanship, and "Barney" after auto racer Barney Oldfield (he got out of a traffic ticket when a teammate in the car told the policeman Johnson was Barney Oldfield).[29]

In 1999, The Sporting News ranked Johnson number 4 on its list of Baseball's 100 Greatest Players, the highest-ranked pitcher.[30] Later that year, he was elected to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team.

In 1985 Jonathan Richman recorded the song "Walter Johnson", which dwelt on Johnson's personality and behaviour as an exemplar of what can be good in sport.[31]

In 2015, he along with Nap Lajoie, Christy Mathewson and Cy Young were named the "Greatest Pioneers Group." They were voted for by baseball fans online as part of the Franchise Four competition and were "selected as the most impactful players". The results were announced at the 2015 MLB All-Star Game.[32]

Johnson's gentle nature was legendary, and to this day he is held up as an example of good sportsmanship, while his name has become synonymous with friendly competition. This attribute worked to Johnson's disadvantage in the case of fellow Hall of Famer Ty Cobb. Virtually all batters were concerned about being hit by Johnson's fastball, and many would not "dig in" at the plate because of that concern. Cobb realized that the good-hearted Johnson was privately nervous about the possibility of seriously injuring a batter. Almost alone among his peers, Cobb would actually stand closer to the plate than usual when facing Johnson.[33]


Career Statistics:


417 279 .599 802 666 531 110 34 5,914.1 4,913 97 1,363 3,508 203 23,749 2.17 1.061

Note that official MLB stats show 3,508 career strikeouts, with 70 in his first (1907) season. Stats at the websites of Baseball Hall of Fame, ESPN, Baseball Reference and Baseball Cube (see "External Links", below) all show 3,509 career strikeouts, with 71 in his first season. This has resulted in minor differences seen in references to Johnson's record when reading media and Wikipedia articles of other 3000 strikeout club pitchers.


933 2,324 547 94 41 24 241 255 13 110 251 * .235 .274 .342 0.616

* Strikeouts not counted for batters until 1913 in the AL, 1910 in the NL.

See also


  1. ^ "Walter Johnson". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved July 27, 2012.
  2. ^ a b "Today in History". The Library of Congress. Retrieved July 20, 2012.
  3. ^ (2010). "Yearly League Leaders & Records for Strikeouts". Retrieved August 25, 2010.
  4. ^ Tom (October 9, 2013). "Walter Johnson at 12 Years Old in 1900 U.S. Census". Ghosts of DC. Retrieved March 2, 2019.
  5. ^ " The Big Train kept on chuggin'".
  6. ^ Walter Johnson: Baseball's Big Train, by Henry W. Thomas, Published by U of Nebraska Press, 1998, page 1. On Google Books
  7. ^ a b c Dufresne, Chris (June 2, 2008). "The year the Big Train stopped in Brea, and brought the Babe". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 2, 2008.
  8. ^ Stump, Al (1994). Cobb: A Biography.
  9. ^ Doug Thorburn (January 24, 2014). "Raising Aces: Classic Deliveries: Fade to Black and White". Baseball Prospectus. Retrieved January 29, 2014.
  10. ^ James, Bill; Neyer, Rob (June 16, 2008). The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers: An Historical Compendium of Pitching, Pitchers, and Pitches. Touchstone. p. 270. ISBN 9781439103777. Retrieved January 29, 2014.
  11. ^ "Sortable Player Stats". Major League Baseball.
  12. ^ "Career Leaders & Records for Wins". Baseball-Reference. Retrieved January 12, 2011.
  13. ^ "Walter Johnson". Baseball-Reference. Retrieved January 12, 2011.
  14. ^ a b Baseball's Top 100: The Game's Greatest Records, p.34, Kerry Banks, 2010, Greystone Books, Vancouver, BC, ISBN 978-1-55365-507-7
  15. ^ "Innings Pitched Records by Baseball Almanac".
  16. ^ Nat'l Pastime Museum [@TNPMuseum] (October 15, 2016). "OTD 1927 #DC Senators grant pitching great Walter Johnson his release. Reluctantly. #MLB #Goodbyes" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  17. ^ For an example of a major league game broadcast by Johnson, listen to Complete Broadcast Day (September 21, 1939), selecting numbers 11 and 12 on the list of one-hour segments. Retrieved January 31, 2014.
  18. ^ "By The Numbers: The First Inductees". CBS New York. Retrieved July 20, 2012.
  19. ^
  20. ^ Joe Martin to Robert J. Donovan, My First Fifty Years in Politics, p. 24 (New York City: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1960), 261 pp. Library of Congress No. 60-150012
  21. ^ Tom (June 8, 2012). "Mr. and Mrs. Walter Johnson Tie the Knot on Monroe St. NW". Ghosts of DC. Retrieved March 2, 2019.
  22. ^ "Hazel Lee Roberts Buried By Husband Walter Johnson - Ghosts of DC".
  23. ^ Walter Johnson: Baseball's Big Train, by Henry W. Thomas, Published by U of Nebraska Press, 1998, page 346. On Google Books
  24. ^ Walter Johnson: Baseball's Big Train, by Henry W. Thomas, Published by U of Nebraska Press, 1998, page 348. On Google Books
  25. ^ Walter Johnson at Find a Grave
  26. ^ "The Official Site of Bethesda Big Train Summer Collegiate Baseball: Walter Johnson".
  27. ^ "4 Strikeouts In 1 Inning".
  28. ^ "Three Pitch Innings".
  29. ^ Walter Johnson: Baseball's Big Train, by Henry W. Thomas, Published by U of Nebraska Press, 1998, page 348. On Google Books
  30. ^ Baseball's 100 Greatest Players by The Sporting News
  31. ^ "Bloop Hits: Jonathan Richman Rides the Big Train - FOX Sports". March 27, 2015.
  32. ^ "2015 Franchise Four: MLB Pioneers". Major League Baseball.
  33. ^ Judge, Mark Gauvreau (2004). Damn Senators: My Grandfather and the Story of Washington's Only World Series Championship. San Francisco: Encounter Books. p. 170. ISBN 1-59403-045-6.


  • Kavanagh, Jack (1997). Walter Johnson: A Life (Diamond Communications) ISBN 0-912083-94-8
  • Thomas, Henry W. (1995). Walter Johnson: Baseball's Big Train (University of Nebraska Press: Bison Books) ISBN 0-9645439-0-7
  • Treat, Roger L., with contributions by Clark Griffith (1948). Walter Johnson King of the Pitchers (New York: Julian Messner)

Further reading

  • Burns, Ken (1994). Baseball: An Illustrated History. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 0-679-40459-7.

External links

Preceded by
Rube Waddell
American League Pitching Triple Crown
1913, 1918 & 1924
Succeeded by
Lefty Grove
Preceded by
Ray Caldwell
No-hitter pitcher
July 1, 1920
Succeeded by
Charlie Robertson
This page was last edited on 18 May 2019, at 19:39
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