As I traveled the road in my home county of Beaufort, SC, I reflected on when a road got named after Heavy Weight Boxing Champion of the World, Smokin’ Joe Frazier. People that see that road here may wonder why since many people incorrectly believe that Smokin’ Joe was from Philadelphia where they have a statue of the fictional boxer, “Rocky” and didn’t place one there for Joe. So, to help folks get the truth, I thought it would be appropriate to honor someone that I knew and loved on his birthday, January 12th by setting the record straight.
In 1944, Joe Frazer was born the twelfth child of Rubin and Dolly Alston-Frazier. They lived near the Laurel Bay area, where like many of their neighbors, they were sharecroppers.
Eventually, Joe’s father bought a black and white television on which family and community members would watch boxing matches. One evening Joe’s uncle spoke about how Joe would become a legendary boxer and that thought inspired Joe to create his own boxing equipment. He got a croaker sack and filled it with Spanish moss, a brick, corn cobs and rags and would practice boxing daily. Folks around school and the neighborhood quickly learned that he was not the one to get into a fight with either! I guess he used them as sparing partners if they messed with him or his other siblings.
Before leaving home at the age of 15 in 1959, Joe had an arm injury that never allowed him to fully straighten his arm back out. So, it had to be his destiny to rise in the ranks of boxing in the way that he did in spite of that. He wouldn’t have had the opportunities to get into the rink had he not left from the farm where he saw racism and abuse inflicted upon his people. His mother was concerned about his well being and encouraged him to leave before local whites did something to him. So, he got a job working at the soda company to save up enough money for a bus ticket to his brother in New York City where he stayed until he decided to go to Pennsylvania and remain there.
Any native Gullah/Geechee from the Beaufort County area that knew Joe Frazier not only cheered him on, but also celebrated with him at various places. He loved parties and would come out to support those given by his home folks from New York City to St. Helena Island and the Frazier Family would throw parties to beat the band!
Given the history of our legendary heavyweight champion, I was surprised on the rainy night of the premiere of “Joe Frazier When the Smoke Clears” that the lot to the auditorium where the film was showing was not overrun. My family and I left St. Helena Island an hour ahead just to get into Beaufort and insure that we could park. We were used to being in the crowds that Joe would draw. However, the attendance was mild. Folks that were boxing fans where there along with us that were family and friends to meet the film maker, Mike Todd from the United Kingdom who had finally captured the story of Joe Frazier’s journey.
Everyone wanted a glimpse into what made Joe Frazier the champion that he became. One of the most memorable things stated by everyone in the film was that he never forgot where home was because home is what made him the champion that he was. So, Smokin’ Joe, I just want you to know, just as you never forgot home, home folks have never forgotten you. Hunnuh da we Gullah/Geechee Heavy Weight World Champion fa tru!