Born in Georgia in 1921, Ezzard Charles came to Cincinnati at 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. Charles moved to the heavyweight division three years later 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 was a safety inspector for the State of Ohio, a bouncer at a Northern Kentucky nightclub, and a professional wrestler named “Cincinnati Cobra.” A doctor diagnosed him with Lou Gehrig’s disease after he relocated to Chicago.
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. The International Boxing Hall of Fame welcomed him in 1990, recognizing his remarkable achievements.
About The First 28
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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Images provided by ezzardcharles.com and alpsroads.net