TIGER FLOWERS became the first African-American middleweight champion of the world by beating Harry Greb in Madison Square Garden in 1926.
For Flowers to rise out of Georgia in that time, when it was considered acceptable for black men and women to be condemned to waste away in a penitentiary for trivial, often trumped-up offences, or murdered by whole communities without even a semblance of a trial, was nothing short of incredible.
Born in the countryside of Camilla in 1895, raised in the coastal city of Brunswick and boxing out of Atlanta, Flowers fought anywhere he, or his white manager Walk Miller, could get work. He covered more than 70,000 miles by road or rail, zig-zagging across the country. In 1924 alone he fought 36 times, including a 10-round No Decision, non-title fight with Greb in Ohio.
He was knocked out several times, but eventually broke into New York and was awarded a shot at Greb’s championship following a disgraceful points defeat to Mike McTigue, the former light-heavyweight champion, in Madison Square Garden in December 1925.
Flowers upset an admittedly faded Greb on points in February 1926, and beat him in a return six months later. Both decisions were close and open to argument.
Flowers lost the title on another tight, some said unfair verdict to Mickey Walker in Chicago in December 1926, but on the day the New York State Athletic Commission insisted Walker give him a rematch, Tiger died hours after surgery to remove lumps on his forehead in a Manhattan clinic.
Amazingly both the black and white communities of Atlanta joined to attend his funeral service in the city auditorium with 15,000 inside and a crowd estimated at 70,000 outside, many of whom followed the cortege through the streets of the city to the burial grounds.
FLOWERS, whose given name was Theodore, was known as “The Georgia Deacon” because of his Methodist faith. Mid-fight he told Greb, who had been trying to intimidate him: “Mr Greb, I don’t mind you thumbing me in the eye, but please don’t take the Lord’s name in vain.” Greb said: “I stopped cursing him. And I stopped thumbing him too.”
Born August, 1895* in Camilla, Georgia Died November 16, 1927 Wins 115 Knockouts 56 Losses 14 Draws 6 Newspaper Decisions 21 No Contests 6 Best win Harry Greb (I) w pts 15 Worst loss Jack Delaney l ko 4 Pros Fast, elusive, determined Cons Under-appreciated power, chin
*Some sources cite his date of birth as February, 1893.