Monday, January 10, 2011

Man Of Steel, Man Of Might: Arizona's John Henry Lewis

John Henry is a black man who has been portrayed as a real man and also as myth. Be he real or a myth he is represented in song as a man of strength who helped in the building of laying tracks for railroads.

A steel driving man they say bigger than life. He was said to weld a 30 or 40 lb hammer as he raced along side steam powered drills. He and others like him used hammers and other tools to forge through mountains and rock. He died doing what he did best. Driving Steel!!!

This leads me to another John Henry. John Henry Lewis!. This one is from Phoenix Arizona. He did not forge through mountains and tunnels to build the railroads but he used his hard as a rock fists to pound through opponents and fight his way to become the Light heavy weight Champion.
John Henry born May 1st,1918 to John E and Mattie Lewis.

The family moved to Phoenix Arizona from Los Angeles when he two years old.  At the age of four John Henry already had a pair of special made gloves to fit his hands.
As a youngster he and his brother Christy attended Booker T Washington grade school.
After school they would rush home so they could box and train with their dad. People in the industry were amazed with John Henry's boxing skills as well as his brother Christy.

Listed below is the 1920 census when the family lived on East Washington Street. John Henry's father is listed as a barber and actually learned his trade from his father Nathaniel (click to enlarge)

In 1930 the family was still living on East Washington but without father John. (click to enlarge)

When the brothers attended Phoenix Union High School they were in the school band and also were adept in all sports.

As John Henry matured he won fight after fight after fight as shown in this Pittsburg Courier news article in October 1932

and again in  San Francisco in August of 1933 he showed them what he could do to an established fighter
John Henry has quite the family. His father John is an accomplished trainer who has managed quite a few boxers. He was born on Feb 14th 1850 in Akron Ohio to Nathaniel Christy Lewis and his grandmother Almira G Griffin was active in the underground Railroad.

His fathers uncle was Tom Molyneaux who won his freedom by fighting and eventually fought for the championship in England.
 Born in 1784 to parents enslaved by a wealthy Virginian plantation owner named Molyneux, Tom because of his size and strength was selected to engage in prizefighting matches with enslaved men from neighboring estates, a practice common during that era.  Often planters bet substantial sums of money on the outcome. Tom ultimately participated in a match involving a wager of $100,000.  When he won his grateful owner granted him his freedom and a present of $500.

One of his other uncles, John Lewis of Youngstown Ohio, was considered one of the greatest fighters to ever come out of Ohio.

I remember other fighters that came out of Arizona. Fighters like Zora Foley who had his chance when he fought Ali.

Although this next fighter is not from Arizona, it is worth the mention that Lewis and Louis both were fighters. He was born May 14th,1914,the same month as John Henry Lewis.