- Steven A. Riess
Joe Gans was born Joseph Gans in Baltimore, Maryland. He reputedly was the son of an African American baseball player, Joseph Butts. His mother's name is unknown. He was adopted at age four by Maria Gant and her husband. It is not known why he altered his name from Gant to Gans or if in fact previously printed sources had misspelled his adopted mother's surname. Gans began fighting in 1890 in battle royales, brawls in which several African Americans fought each other for money, with the last one standing declared the winner. These free-for-alls taught him to block, dodge, and lead with his punches. His first real fight was for a $2 side bet; in addition, he collected $5.40 in change from the crowd.
A fishmarket clerk, the 5′ 6″′ Gans turned professional in 1891 fighting almost exclusively in Baltimore at 133 pounds He won all of ...
A version of this article originally appeared in Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience.