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Old 09-19-2007, 10:44 PM   #1
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Default NY Daily News article - The Sundowners

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Early black boxers were virtually invisible in media

Wednesday, September 19th 2007, 4:00 AM

Kevin Smith was researching box scores in Boston, looking for details of his great-grandfather's pitching exploits with the Boston Beaneaters in the late 1880s when he stumbled upon what would become a consuming passion.

"I kept running into the names of these boxers over and over again," Smith said. "And I kept thinking if these guys were that good why had I never heard of them?"
That's because the names belonged to black boxers from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, athletes who were invisible to the mainstream press. Smith spent 15 years digging them out and has compiled that rich history in "The Sundowners: The History of the Black Prizefighter from 1870-1930."
The book is a treasure of information. For Smith it was a labor of love. "This isn't just black history, this is American history," Smith said. "This is a way to give it from another perspective."
In today's age of Pay-Per-View, it seems unfathomable that the best would not be matched against the best. But that was the case for most of the boxers Smith chronicles. John L. Sullivan said he would never fight a black boxer. And that was the case for most of the white champions of that day. "If John L. Sullivan never fought the best guys, how do we know he was the true champion?" Smith asked.
To research the book, Smith pored over microfilm from old African-American newspapers, dug through record books and interviewed family members. But one of the toughest things he faced was trying to find depictions - pictures, posters, drawings - of the boxers.
"I believe the images were very important because it made them human," Smith said.
The book has hometowns, records and some fascinating stories. The story of Ramon Castillo, born Ramon Grenot Cathcart in Jamaica in 1907 and raised in Cuba, brought Smith into contact with Ralph Cathcart, Ramon's son. Five years ago, Ralph began researching his father's boxing career for a book and he contacted Smith, who is founder of the Historical Society of Black Prizefighters. Cathcart became hooked on the stories and is the editor of the book.
"The thing that strikes me about these fighters is their indomitable spirit," Cathcart said. "You can empathize with them, but you have no idea of what they went through. You could be very good, but you were only going to fight other black boxers. To truly succeed you had to leave this country."
That's what Ramon Castillo, who boxed out of the Bronx, did. He was known as "The Colored Lightweight Champion" in America, but because he refused to throw fights here, he went to Europe. The book tells the story of when Al Capone came to his dressing room in Chicago and asked him if he knew who was going to win. Castillo replied that he was going to win. Capone asked, "You sure?"
In Europe, Castillo became a true Renaissance man, learning to speak seven languages, dancing with entertainer Josephine Baker and hobnobbing with royalty. When the Spanish Civil War broke out, he was given safe passage back to America on the HMS Douglas. Smith and Cathcart should be applauded for unearthing such an important part of boxing and American history. To buy a copy of the book go to [Only registered and activated users can see links. ].
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