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Boxing  

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 ...

Article

Michael L. Krenn

boxer, was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Little is known about his early life or his parents, except that the family lived on the brink of poverty.

Brown worked a number of different jobs—carpentry among them—before beginning his boxing career in 1943 in New Orleans, winning a four-round decision. Almost immediately, however, his participation in the professional sport was cut short when he was drafted to fight in World War II. Brown spent nearly two years in the U.S. Navy—most of it in the Pacific Theater—during which time he continued to box, finally winning the All-Service Lightweight Championship before his discharge in 1945. Following his return to civilian life, in 1946 Brown threw himself back into professional prizefighting averaging from seven to twelve fights a year sometimes with only a week s rest between bouts Despite his enthusiasm and seemingly limitless energy his career did not get off ...

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Steven J. Niven

prison musician, was born to sharecroppers in Greenwood, Mississippi. The names of his parents have not been recorded. Like most children in the Mississippi Delta at that time, Carter assisted his family in bringing in the cotton crop, which was particularly precarious during the severe agricultural depression of the 1930s that drastically reduced the price of cotton. With little or no formal education, Carter left home at age thirteen, in 1939, in search of work. Not finding any, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy during World War II—some sources suggest he served in the U.S. Marines—and served on cruisers in the Pacific theater. He returned to Greenwood when the war ended. In 1947 he married his childhood sweetheart, a sharecropper's daughter named Rosie Lee whose maiden name is unknown. The couple had three daughters.

Work was no easier to come by after the war than it had been before ...

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Michael L. Krenn

boxer and former light heavyweight and heavyweight champion of the world, was born in Lawrenceville, Georgia, the son of William and Alberta Charles. His father was a truck driver; little is known about his mother. According to Charles, his unusual first name came from the doctor who delivered him, W. P. Ezzard. His early life before his boxing career is somewhat vague. What is known is that at about the age of nine, he moved from Georgia to live with his grandmother and great-grandmother in Cincinnati, Ohio, following the divorce of his parents.

He took up amateur boxing as a teenager, and while still in high school won the Amateur Athletic Union's national middleweight title. In 1940 just nineteen years old Charles turned professional and over the next three years fought thirty six times with thirty four wins one loss and one draw Charles did not shy ...

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Donna L. Halper

radio personality and advertising executive, was most likely the first black announcer in the history of broadcasting, on the air as early as 1924. His successful radio career would span four decades and make him a wealthy man. Cooper did not come from an entertainment background. Born in Memphis, Tennessee, he was one of ten children of William and Lavina Cooper. Jack Cooper quit school after the fifth grade to help support his impoverished family. He held a number of low-paying jobs and for a time got interested in boxing, winning more than a hundred bouts as a welterweight fighter. But he found his calling on the vaudeville stage, where he became a singer and dancer, beginning in 1905 and continuing well into the 1920s. He was more than just a performer, writing and producing skits and entire shows, often in collaboration with his first wife Estelle ...

Article

Luckett V. Davis

boxer, was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, but was brought by his parents to Boston when he was eight years old. There he attended school and, in 1884, began working for Elmer Chickering, a photographer who specialized in making portraits of boxers. While on a job Dixon saw boxing matches at the Boston Music Hall and decided to pursue a boxing career. After a few amateur bouts he attracted the attention of Tom O'Rourke, a former boxer who taught Dixon and managed him throughout most of his career.

Dixon became a professional boxer in 1888, and by the end of the year he was well known in the Boston area due to a thrilling series of fights with a local hero, Hank Brennan Weighing less than 100 pounds Dixon proved to be an extremely clever boxer good at defense and capable of landing hard ...

Article

Charles Rosenberg

musician, primarily playing rhythm and blues on the piano, known professionally as “Champion Jack” Dupree, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. His parents were killed when he was an infant, in a fire that burned their grocery store, and their names have never been established.

Dupree sometimes said that the fire had been set by the Ku Klux Klan. “All my life, from six years old” he later recalled, “I wanted to work and save up enough money and git enough ammunition and catch them in a meeting and spray them and let em spray me long as I could lay down dead in the field with a few of them I d be happy Norman p 130 Other times he said it was a spontaneous explosion Davis pp 52 53 a fire from an exploding kerosene container used for fueling lamps and the roof fell in Their names ...

Article

Luckett V. Davis

world middleweight boxer, was born Theodore Flowers in Camilla, Georgia, the son of Aaron Flowers, a railroad porter, and Lula Dawson. When he was a small child his family moved to Brunswick, Georgia, where he completed six school grades and afterward held various jobs. In 1915 he married Willie Mae Spellars, and in 1917 they moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he worked as a subway laborer, later taking a job in the navy yard when World War I began. While in Philadelphia he received his first instruction in boxing.

After the war ended, Flowers returned to Georgia and, against the wishes of his parents, began to box professionally. He won a few fights in the Savannah-Brunswick area, and rumors of his boxing ability reached Walk Miller the owner of a gymnasium in Atlanta Miller contacted Flowers and became his manager and the two men established ...

Article

David Borsvold

boxing trainer who guided twenty-two fighters to championships, was born in Hillsboro, Mississippi, where his father was a sharecropper. His family moved to Detroit while Futch was still a child, and while growing up in the tough Black Bottom neighborhood he became a proficient athlete in boxing and basketball. In 1932 Futch won the lightweight boxing championship of the Detroit Athletic Association, and in 1933 he became the Detroit Golden Gloves lightweight champion. The five foot, seven inch tall, 135 pound fighter became friendly with the Motor City's future heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis, then still an amateur, at the gym in the Brewster Recreation Center. Louis often sparred with the quicker Futch to improve his own speed and reflexes.

On the brink of his own professional career Futch was forced to quit boxing because of a heart murmur He began teaching boys to box enforcing a strict code ...

Article

Steven A. Riess

professional boxer, was born 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 two-dollar side bet; in addition, he collected $5.40 in change from the crowd.

A fish market clerk, the five-foot-six, 133-pound Gans turned professional in 1891 fighting almost exclusively in Baltimore He won all of his early bouts gaining ...

Article

Michael L. Krenn

lightweight boxing champion, was born Sydney Walker in Waynesboro, Georgia. Little is known about his parents because shortly after his birth he was sent to live with and be raised by his grandmother, Evie Mixom, in Augusta, Georgia. It was from his grandmother that he acquired the nickname “Beau Jack,” a moniker that stuck with him for the rest of his life.

As a young boy in Augusta Jack worked a variety of small jobs including shining shoes He quickly discovered another way of supplementing his household s meager income entering the rough and tumble world of battle royals These sporting contests were organized by well to do local whites for their entertainment A group of African American men and often boys ranging from half a dozen to ten or more would be thrown into a roughshod boxing ring and made to fight until the last man was ...

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John M. Carroll

boxer, was born in Frederiksted on the island of St. Croix, Virgin Islands, the son of a fisherman. His parents' names are unknown. His father became weary of fishing the waters of the Caribbean and, seeking better opportunities in the South Pacific, moved the family to Australia in 1873. Three years later, however, Jackson's parents tired of life in Australia and returned to the Virgin Islands. An adventurous youth, Peter stayed behind and became a boatman and sailor in the area around Sydney. He never saw his parents again.

A natural athlete, Jackson developed a marvelous physique competing in sculling matches and became an excellent swimmer. He got his start in boxing while working as a sailor for a shipping firm owned by Clay Callahan A successful American businessman and local boxer Callahan saw in Jackson a quiet polite young man who had the athletic skills and ...

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Steven J. Niven

world boxing champion, was born Arthur John Johnson in Galveston, Texas, the eldest son of Henry Johnson, a janitor and former slave, and Tiny (maiden name unknown). Johnson landed in many-schoolyard fights, usually returning home beaten, bruised, and crying unless his sister came to his defense. Only when his mother, the more dominant of his parents, threatened him with a worse whipping did he begin to fight back. After attending public school for six years, he assisted his invalid father and then drifted from one job to another, working as a horse trainer, a baker, and a dockworker, usually near Galveston, although his autobiography lists more exotic, far-flung locations. That memoir contains serial exaggerations and embellishments, many of which are repeated in the Tony- and Pulitzer Prize–winning stage play (1969) and later movie (1970), The Great White Hope.

Johnson also participated in battle ...

Article

Robert Janis

professional boxer, was born Gerardo Gonzalez in Gamaguey, Cuba. He was known as Kid Gavilan during most of his boxing career. Gavilan is the Spanish word for “hawk.”

Kid Gavilan started boxing when he was ten years old and had sixty amateur fights before turning pro. He made his professional boxing debut when he was only seventeen years old, defeating Antonio Diaz by a decision after only four rounds. He fought in Cuba until 1946 and also performed in Mexico. His American debut took place in November 1946 and resulted in a victory over Johnny Ryan. By the end of 1947 Kid Gavilan had a record of eleven wins, one defeat, and one draw and was making a name for himself among boxing fans, with Ring magazine ranking him as the seventh contender for the world welterweight title He continued to build up his reputation in a ...

Article

Michael L. Krenn

boxer, was born William Ward. His precise date of birth and even the place of his birth are still matters of debate. Some boxing historians claimed that he was born in Norfolk, Virginia (hence his nickname), on 20 September 1895. In 2001, however, a birth certificate was located in Belmont, Trinidad, indicating that William Ward had been born on 10 July 1893 on Norfolk Street in Belmont The names and occupations of his parents are unknown As might be imagined from the confusion arising about his birthplace and date of birth accounts of Kid Norfolk s early life are contradictory Those who place his birthplace in Virginia tell of early years spent fighting in Battle Royals a brutal sport organized by whites in which several young black boys and men were put in a fighting ring often blindfolded and let loose upon one another in ...

Article

Luckett V. Davis

boxer, was born at Weymouth Falls, Nova Scotia, Canada, the son of Robert Langford, a poor black river driver, and Priscilla Robart. He received no formal education, left home at the age of twelve after quarreling with his father, and arrived in the United States on a lumber schooner in 1899. He drifted about New England for several years, working mostly as a stevedore. While panhandling in Boston, he met Joe Woodman, a druggist and small-time boxing promoter. Woodman hired him as a janitor at his gymnasium, and Langford later became a sparring partner and amateur boxer before making his professional debut in April 1902. He was managed by Woodman until 1919.

Weighing only about 140 pounds at the outset of his boxing career, Langford advanced rapidly. By the end of 1903 he had already defeated the lightweight champion Joe Gans and ...

Article

Christopher Caines

actor, bandleader, and boxer, was born Leonard Lionel Cornelius Canegata in New York City, the son of James Cornelius Canegata, a clerk, and Lydia Whaley. Lee's father came from a wealthy and politically prominent family in St. Croix, Virgin Islands, whose ancestors had adopted a Danish surname. Lee's grandfather owned a fleet of merchant ships; the family also raced horses. James Canegata shipped out as a cabin boy at eighteen, settled in Manhattan, married, and worked for National Fuel and Gas for thirty-one years. Lee grew up in the San Juan Hill section of Manhattan's West Sixties and attended P.S. 5 in Harlem. An indifferent student, he devoted more energy to fisticuffs than to schoolwork. Lee studied violin from age seven with the composer J. Rosamond Johnson and at age eleven he was favorably reviewed at a student concert in Aeolian Hall his parents ...

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Steven J. Niven

world champion boxer, was born Joseph Louis Barrow, the seventh of eight children of Munroe Barrow and Lillie Reese, sharecroppers, in a shack in Chambers County, Alabama. In 1916 his father was committed to the Searcy State Hospital for the Colored Insane, where he would live for the next twenty years. Believing that her husband had died, Lillie later married Pat Brooks and moved with their children in 1926 to Detroit, Michigan, where Brooks found a job at the Ford Motor Plant.Like many rural southerners during the Great Migration, Joe Barrow struggled in the new urban environment Although Alabama had been no racial paradise Michigan seemed little better Nobody ever called me a nigger until I got to Detroit he later recalled Ashe 11 A rural Jim Crow education did not prepare him for the northern public schools and the decision to place the quickly ...

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Bob Greene

boxer, paratrooper, and prison guard, was born Theodore Adolphus Lowry in New Haven, Connecticut, the fourth and youngest child of James Wesley Lowry and Grace Editha Mathews. His father was born in what is now Beckley, West Virginia, whereas his mother was a native of Brunswick, Maine.

In a sixteen-year boxing career that was interrupted by World War II, Lowry became the only fighter to twice go the ten-round distance with Rocky Marciano, who was known for his knockout punch and who finished his career as the undefeated world heavyweight champion.

On 1 June 1946 in New Haven, Lowry married Marjorie Frances Parris, whose brother, Fred Parris, was the lead singer of the Five Satins and wrote the hit song “In The Still of the Night.” Ted and Marjorie had three sons: Wayne, Kenneth, and Kevin Ted married ...

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Henry Lyman

poet, boxer, policeman, and journalist, was born Arthur Winslow MacAlpine in Birmingham, Alabama, the third of five children of Francis P. MacAlpine, an Alabamian born in slavery four years before Emancipation, and Mary Winslow, a music teacher from Canada and the first black woman to graduate from the University of New Brunswick. Having met and married in Springfield, Massachusetts, the MacAlpines had moved to Birmingham so that Mary, unable to find employment in the mostly white schools of New England, could teach in a segregated one. In 1919 the promise of a better education for their children persuaded them to return to Springfield, where Francis kept a small convenience store and Mary gave piano and violin lessons.

Poetry and music were paramount in the household Mary who knew countless poems by heart would recite Longfellow Frost and the English romantics sometimes to young Arthur ...