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*Sam Langford was born on this date in 1886. He was a Black Canadian boxer known as the 'Boston Tar Baby' and the 'Boston Terror.'
Born in Weymouth Falls, Digby County, Nova Scotia, in 1886, Langford ran from home at 12 and worked his way to Boston. At age 16, at 5'7" and weighing 135 lbs, he made his professional boxing debut, winning his first fight. Within eighteen months, he fought and defeated Joe Gans, the world lightweight champion. Unfortunately, it was not a title bout and was characteristic of Langford's 21-year ring career; Langford never held a world boxing title, although he fought and defeated many of those who did. After just three years as a pro, Langford and his manager felt he was ready for the big heavyweight leagues.
In 1906, Langford took on American Jack Johnson, Negro Heavyweight Champion and contender for the world crown. It took Johnson (who was in his prime and had both a size and weight advantage) 15 rounds to defeat Langford. Thereafter, Johnson never gave Langford a rematch for fear that he might lose his title. When Johnson won the heavyweight championship two years later, he was even more determined to keep his title and stayed away from Langford.
Throughout his prime, Langford was in an unusual boxing situation. Although his weight permitted him to fight in weight divisions other than heavyweight, no champion would risk his title against him. Incidentally, America did not want to see another black champion then. Between 1902 and 1923, Langford fought nearly 300 recorded bouts in every division, from lightweight to heavyweight. He was rarely defeated but never got the title match he deserved.
By the early 1920s, Langford's advancing blindness began to cause problems, but not before he won the heavyweight championship between Mexico and Spain in 1923. A knockout by a virtual nobody in 1926 finally convinced him to withdraw from the ring. By 1944, Langford was alone, sightless, and living in a Harlem tenement in New York City. However, reporter Al Laney tracked him down while researching an article on old-time black boxers. The resulting publicity prompted Langford's fans to raise a trust fund, enabling him to live out his last years in modest comfort.
He was a well-known and respected boxer on three continents in the early 1900s. Sam Langford was considered one of the most punishing punchers in boxing history. Sam Langford died in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on January 12, 1956, a year after his election into The Ring magazine's Boxing Hall of Fame. He was the first non-champion ever to be so honored.
Langford continues to be remembered for his achievements. In 1972, Weymouth Falls erected a plaque to his memory in its community center. His Cambridge, Massachusetts, grave was given a proper headstone in 1986. CBC Radio produced an hour-long drama on Langford's life written by Charles Saunders. Now, ninety years after Sam Langford’s professional career was launched, the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada recognizes his contribution to Canadian history.