Born in Georgia in 1921, Ezzard Charles came to Cincinnati at the age of nine to live with his grandmother and great-grandmother in the West End. He started boxing in his teen years, winning 42 amateur fights and the Amateur Athletic Union national middleweight title before he graduated from Woodward High School in 1942.
Charles continued boxing until he was called to serve in the military in 1944. In 1946, he returned to the ring in the light heavyweight division. Three years later, Charles moved up to the heavyweight division and defeated Jersey Joe Walcott to win the National Boxing Association championship. In 1950, he won a 15-round decision over Joe Louis and was proclaimed the world heavyweight champion.
Charles successfully defended his title in three matches but lost his crown to Walcott in a re-match in 1951. He continued to box until he retired in 1959. Over his professional boxing career, Ezzard Charles had 122 bouts with 96 wins, 25 losses and one draw.
In addition to boxing, Charles was a musician, an entrepreneur, and a West End community leader. He worked as a safety inspector for the State of Ohio, a bouncer at a Northern Kentucky nightclub and a professional wrestler using the name “Cincinnati Cobra.” He later moved to Chicago, where he was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease.
After he died in 1975, Charles received many accolades and tributes. In 1976, Cincinnati recognized the World Heavyweight Boxing Champion by changing Lincoln Park Drive, where he lived when he won the heavyweight championship, to Ezzard Charles Drive.
To honor the legacy of the “Cincinnati Cobra,” the Cincinnati Parks Foundation erected a statue of the boxing great in Laurel Park. In 1990, he was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
The First 28, graciously sponsored by the Greater Cincinnati Foundation, celebrates Black Cincinnatians who were the first in their fields. Each day during Black History Month, we will celebrate athletes, artists, business leaders, civil rights activists, educators, physicians and politicians.
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