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William Clarence Matthews

American baseball player and lawyer

William Clarence Matthews is ...


Born 7 January 1877 in Selma
Died 9 April 1928 in Washington, D.C.
Age 51 years, 3 months

Sex or gender male
Country of citizenship United States of America
Occupation lawyer and baseball player

About William Clarence Matthews

William Clarence Matthews (January 7, 1877 – April 9, 1928) was an early 20th-century African-American pioneer in athletics, politics and law. Born in Selma, Alabama, Matthews was enrolled at the Tuskegee Institute and, with the help of Booker T. Washington (the principal of the institute), enrolled at the Phillips Academy in 1900 and Harvard University in 1901. At Harvard, he became one of the standout baseball players, leading the team in batting average for the 1903, 1904, and 1905 seasons.

Matthews, having come from poverty and with no living parent, had to financially support himself with multiple jobs, but still managed to graduate in 1905 and was accepted to Boston University School of Law. In the summer of 1905, Matthews joined the Burlington, Vermont baseball team of the Northern League, making him the only African-American in any white professional baseball league at the time. Halfway through the season there were rumors of Matthews joining the struggling Boston Beaneaters as the starting second baseman, but possible backlash throughout the National League stopped the rumors. Matthews joined the Bar association in 1908 and became one of the first African-American Assistant District Attorneys in the country. He worked as legal counsel to Marcus Garvey before getting active in Republican Party politics and helping get Calvin Coolidge elected President in 1924. He died in 1928 while serving in Washington, D.C. as a U.S. Assistant Attorney General. For challenging the color line in professional baseball he is considered by his main biographer, Karl Lindholm, to be "the Jackie Robinson of his day".

About Death

Matthews died on April 9, 1928 (51 years old) of a perforated ulcer. Obituaries for Matthews ran in most of the major newspapers in the country. The New York Times called him "one of the most prominent Negro members of the bar in America." His funeral in Boston was attended by over 1,500 people with William Henry Lewis serving as an honorary pallbearer.

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