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Sam Langford

For the week of Monday March 5, 2001

Sam Langford was possibly the best boxer never to have fought for a title. At a time when most White boxers refused to cross the "colour line" and fight against Blacks, Langford was unable to overcome these obstacles.

Sam Langford

Sam Langford
© With permission from the
Black Cultural Centre for Nova Scotia

Born in Weymouth Falls, Nova Scotia, in 1880, Sam Langford ran away from home at an early age. He drifted to Boston where he supported himself by working odd jobs. His professional boxing career started at age 16.

In 1906, Langford fought another Black boxer, Jack Johnson, who was perhaps the most feared fighter in history. Johnson, who was six foot and 187 pounds, believed he would make short work of the five foot seven inch, 151 pound Langford. This was not to be. Johnson was awarded the 15-round decision, but Langford made a lasting impression on the champion. Johnson avoided a rematch and the two men never fought again.

Racism permeated the sport of boxing early in the 20th century and many Black boxers became its victims. Langford's nickname of the "Boston Tar Baby" reflects the attitude of the time. When the White Canadian boxer Tommy Burns lost to Jack Johnson in 1908, many in the spotlight sought another "Great White Hope" who could dethrone Johnson. But Johnson continuously "ducked" Langford's challenges by claiming that there would be little money in two Blacks fighting. When Johnson was finally defeated in 1915, White champions once again refused to fight Black boxers. It would be 22 years before the next Black champion, Joe Louis, would be crowned.

Fight between Sam Langford (left) and Jack Johnson

Fight between Sam Langford (left) and Jack Johnson
© Drawing by Joe Ryan / With permission from the
Black Cultural Centre for Nova Scotia

Langford continued to make a living by taking on larger, stronger opponents. However, in the more than 250 fights he had in his career, he was never given a championship bout. Eventually the trade caught up with Langford. When he retired around 1923, he was almost totally blind. He lived destitute in New York City until a sportswriter found him and raised enough funds to allow him to live his final years in a Boston rest home.

Sam Langford died in 1956 and is commemorated as a person of national significance by a plaque in his hometown of Weymouth Falls, N.S. He is now recognized as a truly great Canadian sporting hero.

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