Early Black Fighters Laced The Gloves Up In Jersey

In lieu of BLack History Month, I thought this section from my upcoming boxing book was important and a fun read. Sadly, many great fighters were denied fights in certain states due to their race. It makes me proud to say that New Jersey was not one of states.

In Jersey, it doesn’t matter what color you are. Everyone here is encouraged to fight…



"The Black Prince" Peter Jackson
“The Black Prince” Peter Jackson

It was not uncommon, and more importantly at the time not illegal, for black contestants to step into a boxing ring in New Jersey. The World Colored Heavyweight Champion, Peter Jackson of Australia, nicknamed “The Black Prince,” was one of the most feared and controversial fighters of his day, and he made a quick stop in New Jersey in 1889. Born in the Virgin Islands, Jackson was a dangerous heavyweight who was kept from fighting for the heavyweight crown because he was black. John L. Sullivan refused to fight him, but James J. Corbett, the man who dethroned Sullivan, brawled with Jackson to a 61 round draw in California. Jackson smashed his two opponents in New Jersey at Cronheim’s Theatre in Hoboken, Billy Baker and James Ginger McCormick, in three rounds and two rounds, respectively.

The man Jackson beat for that title, “Old Chocolate” George Godfrey, also fought in one of the most barbaric battles in New Jersey boxing history, which is more of a reflection of the conditions of the fight game at the time. The Canadian fighter squared off against white British fighter Denver Ed Smith, also a respected heavyweight of his day. The two battled ferociously for in Hoboken’s Cronheim Theatre, as the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported both men were “badly bruised and bleeding.” Yet oddly, the ring construction was poorly laid out, and one side of the ring pressed against a brick wall. The newspaper’s account of how Godfrey won the fight due to some assistance from the brick and mortar:

“Godfrey landed a straight left hander that sent the Western man reeling across the ring. His head came in violent contact with the brick wall and the fight was virtually over. Smith staggered to the center of the ring and Godfrey swung for his jaw. Before another blow could be struck the referee interfered and declared Godfrey the winner.”

George Dixon, known was Little Chocolate, was the first black fighter to ever win a world championship. He won the World Bantamweight Championship in 1890, and won the World Featherweight championship twice, owning for most of the decade between 1891 and 1900. He is considered one of, if not the greatest, bantamweights ever. On Dec. 15, 1893, he fought in the People’s Theater in Paterson, defeating Torpedo Billy Murphy by disqualification. Dixon was winning the fight easily, The Boston Globe Reported, before Murphy threw a bunch at the referee James Stoddard, who was separating the fighters in the third round. Stoddard threw two punches back, and Murphy clinched Stoddard and “rained blows on the old man’s face.

Barbados Joe Walcott, an eventual idol of “Jersey” Joe Walcott, was a fighter from Guyana and is considered one of the greatest welterweights of all-time. He won the title in 1901 by knocking out James “Rube” Ferns . Before he was a top boxing draw,  “The Barbados Demon” defeated Paddy McGuigan in a 10 round decision at the Caledonian Park in Newark on June 5, 1893.

Bobby Dobbs, the lightweight that claimed to have fought in over 1,000 fights, fought multiple times in New Jersey in Trenton and at the Past Time AC in Sea Isle City. He lost a decision to Austin Gibbons in Paterson in 1896.

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