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Thu, 05.06.1937

Ruben ‘Hurricane’ Carter, Boxer born

Rubin 'Hurricane' Carter

*Rubin Carter was born on this date in 1937. He was a Black professional boxer and criminal justice advocate.

From Clifton, N.J., born into a family of seven children, Carter struggled with a hereditary speech impediment and was sent to a juvenile reform center at 12 after an assault.  He escaped and joined the Army in 1954, experiencing racial segregation and learning to box while in West Germany.  After returning home, Carter committed a series of muggings for four years in various state prisons.

After his release, he began his professional boxing career in 1961, winning 20 of his first 24 fights, mostly by stoppage. Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter was fairly short for a middleweight at 5-foot-8, but his aggression and high punch volume made him effective. Although never a world champion, Carter went 27-12-1 with 19 knockouts, memorably stopping two-division champ Emile Griffith in the first round in 1963. He also fought for a middleweight title in December 1964, losing a unanimous decision to Joey Giardello.

In June 1966, three White people were shot by two Black men at the Lafayette Bar and Grill in Paterson. Carter and a friend John Artis were questioned after being spotted in the area of the murders in Carter’s white car, which vaguely matched witnesses’ descriptions. Both cited alibis and were released but were arrested months later. A case relying largely on the testimony of thieves Alfred Bello and Arthur Bradley resulted in a conviction in June 1967.

After reading the boxer's autobiography, white singer Bob Dylan became aware of Carter’s plight. He met Carter and co-wrote “Hurricane,” which he performed on his Rolling Thunder Revue tour in 1975. Muhammad Ali also spoke out on Carter’s behalf, and advertising art director George Lois and other celebrities worked toward Carter’s release. Carter was granted a new trial and briefly freed in 1976 but was sent back for nine years after being convicted in a second trial. Carter spent 19 years in prison.

With a network of friends and volunteers also advocating for him, Carter eventually won his release from U.S. District Judge H. Lee Sarokin, who wrote that Carter’s prosecution had been “predicated upon an appeal to racism rather than reason, and concealment rather than disclosure.” Carter defied his prison guards from the first day of his incarceration, spending time in solitary confinement because of it. “When I walked into prison, I refused to wear their stripes,” Carter said. “I refused to eat their food. I refused to work their jobs and I would have refused to breathe the prison’s air if I could have done so.” Carter eventually wrote and spoke eloquently about his plight, publishing his autobiography, “The Sixteenth Round,” in 1974.

Benefit concerts were held for his legal defense. Carter was freed in November 1985 when his convictions were set aside after years of appeals and public advocacy. Carter’s murder convictions abruptly ended the boxing career of a former petty criminal who became an undersized middleweight contender largely on ferocity and punching power.  Several books and a 1999 film starring Denzel Washington, who received an Academy Award nomination for playing the boxer-turned-prisoner. Washington worked closely alongside Carter to capture the boxer’s transformation and redemption. Washington won a Golden Globe for the role.

But the makers of “The Hurricane” were widely criticized for factual inaccuracies and glossing over other parts of Carter’s story, including his criminal past and a reputation for a violent temper.  The boxer, Giardello, sued the film’s producers for its depiction of a racist fix in his victory over Carter, who acknowledged Giardello deserved the win. “I wouldn’t give up,” Carter said in an interview on PBS in 2011. “No matter that, they sentenced me to three life terms in prison. I wouldn’t give up. Just because a jury of 12 misinformed people . . . found me guilty did not make me guilty. And because I was not guilty, I refused to act like a guilty person.”

After his release, Carter moved to Toronto, where he served as the executive director of the Association in Defense of the Wrongly Convicted from 1993 to 2005. He received two honorary doctorates for his work.  Carter’s weight and activity dwindled during his final months, but he still advocated for prisoners he believed to be wrongfully convicted. In February, Carter wrote an opinion essay for the New York Daily News, arguing for the release of David McCallum, convicted of kidnapping and murder in 1985. Rubin “Hurricane” Carter died on April 20, 2014, in Toronto; he was 76. John Artis, a longtime friend, and caregiver, said Carter died in his sleep. Carter had been stricken with prostate cancer in Toronto, the New Jersey native’s adopted home.
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