- Michael Ezra
Perhaps no sport has influenced African American culture and society more than boxing. Long before the sport was formalized, slaves worked as prizefighters, sometimes gaining their freedom if they earned their masters enough money and prestige through their exploits in the ring. The first American to compete for the world heavyweight championship was Bill Richmond, a black man and former slave, who took on and lost to England's Tom Cribb in 1805. The former slave Tom Molineaux, who gained his emancipation through pugilism, also challenged Cribb for the crown, losing bouts in 1810 and 1811. Long before their official participation in other professional sports, African Americans were making their mark in the prize ring.
Although boxing was the most popular spectator sport in the United States from the late 1840s until the Civil War blacks were excluded from the big money contests that captured the public ...
A version of this article originally appeared in The Encyclopedia of African American History, 1896 to the Present.