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The Twenties: The Birth of Ezzard Charles

Born in Lawrenceville, named after the doctor that birthed him, Ezzard Charles’s family had the bravery to leave Jim Crowe Georgia to pursue better opportunity. Ezzard made the most of it, becoming the World Heavyweight Boxing Champion and an inspiration to Gwinnett County.

The year, 1921. Doctor W.P. Ezzard delivers a baby. The baby from honeysuckle circle, in downtown Lawrenceville was named after the Doctor who delivered him. Ezzard Mack Charles, was an incredibly intelligent child, but a deeply segregated Georgia was no place to raise any African-American child at the time. Jim Crowe laws not only threatened the lives of the black community, but ALL opportunities. Georgia state education spending was at about $43 per white student in 1930, and only $10 per black student in the state’s public school system. 

No matter the reason for Cinnicinnti, there was a list a mile long of reasons to get out of Georgia. Where was the opportunity? If Ezzard Charles hadn’t left Lawrenceville by 1930 his life simply would not have been anywhere comparable, he would not have an honorary monument under a shade tree in the Lawrenceville Historic Courthouse Square, He would not be in the Gwinnett County Sports Hall of Fame at Coolray Stadium. Not that those two accomplishments, are even a speck of this heavyweight champs, list of accomplishments. 

Ezzard’s likeness painted on buildings.

His son, Ezzard Charles II on his visit to Gwinnett for the induction at CoolRay Field was quoted as saying of his father’s childhood, “That time in our nation was tough on African-Americans. When I was a little boy we’d take the bus to the shopping plaza at 35th (Chicago) and I’d always run to the back of the bus. My father would say, come up here, sit in the front. He always wanted to sit in the front. He told me in the South they make you sit in the back of the bus. I think he never took trips back because of the way it was in the South.” 

Ezzard Charles Monument in Lawrenceville Historic Square.

So, at 9 years old Ezzard moved to Cincinnati, One day a boxer came by in a nice car and wearing a nice suit. The man told Ezzard he owned 365 suits, one for each day of the year. From that point on Ezzard wanted to be a Boxer. Not because he saw a successful boxer, but think of the impact of seeing a successful black man, with more than the white people in south ever owned riding around like a king. Possibility. Opportunity. Anything was now available to Ezzard, anything was possible. 

Ezzard Charles, Heavyweight Champion of The World

Ezzard loved a Brooks Brothers suits, who outfitted him during his heyday in boxing. To boxing fans, he was known as “The Cincinnati Cobra,” a well known fighter because he would become the cities only Heavyweight Boxing Champion. He had a 42-0 record, with two Golden Glove Titles before embarking on a pro career that was interrupted by his service in World War II from 1944 and 1945 where he learned to speak Spanish and Italian. He went on to win the Boxing Heavyweight Title and carried it from 1949 to 1951. Outside of the ring, Ezzard also had owned several night clubs, played bass with the era’s top jazz performers, even sitting in for a session one night with the legendary Duke Ellington. His visits to Lawrenceville, were brief after the move north to Cincinnati and then to Chicago after that, but he did feel confident enough to visit Lawrenceville again briefly in 1949, as both a war vetern and the champ, most likely to visit family.

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