Sam Langford: Boxing Career, Racial Discrimination & Life After Blindness

Who is Sam Langford?

Sam Langford could have achieved much more if only society had been more accepting of the prowess of a black man.

Racism, unfortunately, still prevails in many parts of the world. Although 1964 was when the Civil Rights act was formulated under the anti-discrimination law, providing protections for all kinds of races, religions, colors, or sex, change is always slow.

Though we see many people, forums, and organizations standing against racism or discrimination, it is infelicitous in the first place that we are still observing such hideous acts. Racism and other forms of discrimination have always hindered the lives of many-colored and minor groups of people on various levels.

Similarly, one such individual who faced several barriers in life to find his well-deserved success is Sam Langford. Often referred to as ‘History’s Forgotten Boxer,’  Currently a boxing Hall of Famer, Sam Langford is known for his brute strength, determination, and never-give-up attitude.

So, let’s find out more about Sam Langford and his life, career, hardships, and relationships.

Quick facts

Full nameSamuel Edgar Langford
Also known as Sam Langford
NicknameBoston Tar Baby, Boston Terror, and Boston Bonecrusher
BirthdayMarch 4, 1883 – January 12, 1956
Age72 years
Sun signPisces
TraitsPositive: Flirtatious, charming, romantic, introverted, and emotional
Negative: Sensitive, pessimistic, lazy and money-minded
BirthplaceWeymouth Falls, Nova Scotia, Canadian
Place of deathCambridge, Massachusetts, U.S.A
Currently residingNot applicable
ParentsThomas Langford,
Elizabeth Langford
GrandparentsWilliam Langford
SiblingsNo information
Marital statusMarried
SpouseNo information
ChildrenIda Jarvis 
EducationNo information
Height5 feet 7 inches / 171 kg
Reach73 inches (188 cm)
Career stats293 matches (167 – 38 – 37); 117 KOs 
Eye colorBlack
Hair ColorBlack

Interesting facts

  • Sam Langford could not find enough opponents because of his color.
  • The same opponents fought with Langford over and over again. He fought Harry Wills a maximum number of times, eighteen.
  • Sam was 43 years old when he retired due to blindness.
  • He has defeated both the lightweight world champion and middleweight world champion without actually getting the title himself.
  • Langford is elected as the 7th best heavyweight boxer of all time.

Early Life and Childhood

Sam Langford was born in Weymouth Falls, Nova Scotia, a small community established by former black slaves and black loyalists. One of the people involved in establishing the community was Langford’s grandfather, William Langford.

Sam Langford
Sam Langford

However, hardship and sorrow have always been a part of Sam Langford’s life from his early days. His father was physically abusive; nevertheless, Langford’s mother was the one who loved him and protected him.

But unfortunately, Sam’s mother died when he was twelve, and the physical abuse from his father began to grow. Not being able to cope with his sorrow and abuse, young Sam left his home.

He wanted to go to Boston, Massachusetts, but the journey from Nova Scotia to Boston was very long. So, Sam Langford worked various jobs on his way to get there.

He worked as a logger, ox driver, and cabin boy on Nova Scotia and New England ships. Then, Sam got to New Hampshire, where he worked on a vast farm.

However, he did not last there long because he got into a fight with his fellow workers. Now, without money and a job, Langford set on his way to Boston on foot, grabbing any jobs along the way.

Afterward, when he reached Boston, he was offered a janitor job in a local boxing gym named Lenox Athletic Club. This was where his journey in boxing started.

Sam was a quick learner, and soon he was noticed by Joe Woodman, the gym owner. Langford could easily spar with professional and established boxers that visited the gym, this impressed Woodman, and he decided to launch Langford’s career by becoming his manager.

Soon, in 1901, when Sam was only 15, he won the featherweight Championship (Amateur) in Boston. Later, his professional career started in 1902.

Professional Career 

Known for his willingness to fight in different weight classes throughout his 24 years long career, Sam Langford started his professional boxing career as a lightweight. Moreover, he also competed in welterweight, middleweight, and heavyweight.

Sam was a fierce puncher despite his short stature. Additionally, he also had a never-give-up attitude and was tough to beat, making him a vicious opponent for any boxer.

Sam Langford vs Bill Lang
Sam Langford vs. Bill Lang

Langford’s professional career began when he was just 16 years old against Jack McVicker. It was a knockout victory for Sam in his debut match.

Shortly after his professional debut, Langford got a chance to fight for the lightweight division world champion title against Joe Grans. Joe Grans was the first black man to win a world championship.

The fight lasted for 15 rounds, and finally, Sam was declared the winner. Afterward, it was found that he weighed slightly more than the 135 pounds weight limit, and the championship belt was not awarded to him.

However, this was one of many times that Sam Langford would be denied a title. As aforementioned, hardship and bad luck followed him around throughout his career and remaining life.

Memorable Matches and Series of Relentless Misfortune

Following the disqualification in the lightweight division, Langford moved up in the weight division to welterweight. On September 5, 1904, he again got to fight with welterweight champion Joe Walcott.

This contest also lasted for 15 rounds; however, it was called a draw, causing sheer dismay in the audience. It was clear that Langford landed numerous punches and out-boxed his opponent.

New York Times News Editor, Arthur Lumley, reported that Sam Langford should have gotten the decision, and the spectators were displeased with the result.

Langford vs Wills, 1914
Langford vs. Wills, 1914

Furthermore, Sam fought Jack Johnson, a popular heavyweight title contender, who outweighed Langford by more than 20 lbs. However, this was the most brutal fight that Johnson would face.

The match ended after 15 rounds, and Johnson was declared the winner. Moving on, he went to win the world championship two years later; nonetheless, he refused to fight Sam Langford again for fear of losing his title to a black man.

Johnson has publicly said that he doesn’t want to fight Sam, referring to him as black smoke, because he has got a chance to win against anyone. Additionally, Johnson wanted to be the first and last black heavyweight champion.

In addition to this, Langford’s closest call to a championship title came on April 27, 1910. He fought Stanley Ketchel, although Ketchel refused to put his title on the line for fear he’d lose to the Canadian.

The entertaining match was a draw, and a rematch was expected. However, just six months after the fight, Ketchel was murdered.

Racial Barriers in Sam Langford’s Career

The boxing era when Sam Langford competed was when the promoters of matches believed that the audience would not pay to see two black boxers. Additionally, most white boxing champions refused to put their title on the line and risk losing it to a black opponent.

Sam Langford the boston bonecrusher
Sam Langford, The Boston bonecrusher

Nevertheless, these were only subtle racial barriers that a black athlete like Sam Langford had to face. Another not-so-subtle racism was in the names given to the black boxers themselves.

Epithets given to black boxers were blatantly racist. ‘Boston Tar Baby,’ given to Langford, was one example of nicknames given to black boxers.

Meanwhile, the white boxers were named by the promoters as ‘Great White Savior,’ when their black counterparts were named as ‘Boston Terror.’ Such names reflect the racial superiority in the sport of boxing.

Significant Achievements of Sam Langford

Although he never retired as a decorated athlete, Langford gained immense respect from critics and fellow peers. The critics praised him as “the man the champions feared,” “the man so good, he was never given a chance to show how good he was,” and even the “Greatest fighter in ring history.”

Sam Langford is listed in the top 10 boxers of all time in the Ring Magazine, even though he never won the world championship. However, he was referred to as “the greatest of them all” and “the man I feared the most” by even the Hall of Famers, Abe Atell, former featherweight champion, and Jack Dempsey, former heavyweight champion, respectively.

The significant awards and honors that Sam Langford received are as follows.

  • Middleweight Champion (Wales)
  • Heavyweight Champion (England, Mexico, Spain)
  • Colored World Heavy Weight Champion (1910)
  • International Boxing Hall of Fame (1990)
  • The Ring Boxing Hall of Fame (1955)
  • Nova Scotia’s Sports Hall of Fame (1955)
  • Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame (1955)
  • Nova Scotia’s top male athlete of the 20th century (1999)
  • No. 2 on Ring Magazines ‘Top 100 punchers of all time’
  • Boxer of the half-century (Canadian Press)

Furthermore, Langford continues to be remembered for all he has achieved in his career, even after his death. In his memory, a plaque was erected in his birthplace Weymouth Falls, Nova Scotia, in 1972.

Additionally, in 1986, his grave was given a headstone in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Also, a one-hour-long drama was written by Charles Sanders, depicting the life of Sam Langford.   

End of Career and Blindness

The series of tragic events in the life of Sam Langford continued in his fight with Fred Fulton on June 19, 1917. A punch to the head from Fulton resulted in visual impairment for Langford.

Despite the visual impairment, Sam continued his boxing career. Surprisingly, in 1923, Langford was able to win the Mexican Heavyweight Championship despite needing help to find the ring due to his growing blindness.

However, his visual impairment kept growing over time, but Langford continued his boxing because he needed money. His last match was in 1926, which was called off during the first round because Langford could not see his opponent. After his final fight, Sam Langford left the ring forever and virtually disappeared from the public eye.

Life After Boxing 

It was not until 1944 that the information about the former boxing phenomenon was out. Al Laney, an aspiring journalist, set out to find Langford so the new generation of fans could learn about his story.

Sadly, Sam Langford lived in poverty in Harlem, New York, and was completely blind. However, when Al’s article was published, a trust fund was established, which paid for his eye surgery and provided a source of income for the veteran boxer.

According to the reports, Langford had 20 cents in his pockets when Laney found him. Additionally, a few dollars that he received from a foundation for the blind were his only income. Plus, with no relatives or a life partner, Langford used to spend his time alone in his dark bedroom with only an old radio for company.

Sam became the first non-champion to be inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1955. Afterward, he died aged 70 the following year.

Similar Posts