When he entered this world, nothing about who he was would have led anyone to predict his future. With what he accomplished in his life, it would be reasonable to expect him to be a household name. He influenced arguably the most widely known athlete, Muhammad Ali, in American history. He has a couple of monuments erected in his memory and a street named for him, but Ezzard Charles, one of the greatest athletes the world has ever known, is known to only a few.
Ezzard Mack Charles was born in a shack in the Rocky Knob section of Lawrenceville in 1921. The community had a wooden frame schoolhouse for black students, which was destroyed by a tornado in 1924. Even though the neighborhood was only a couple of blocks from the county courthouse, for young Charles, it was a different world. His parents didn’t have the money to pay the doctor who delivered him, so they chose his first name as a tribute to Dr. Webster Pierce Ezzard.
Lawrenceville, GA, was not then the type of town where a black child was born into a life of opportunity. A black man, Charles Hale, was lynched on the courthouse square only ten years earlier. Ironically, this horrific crime took place on the same property where today, a monument honors Ezzard Charles.
Charles’s father, William, was a truck driver for a local cotton mill. He abandoned the family when Ezzard was five, leaving his mother, Alberta, with the challenge of providing for herself and her only child.
Charles had his first “bout” when he was around nine years old. A makeshift ring was put up on the lawn of the city’s Mayor, Grover Montgomery, and neighborhood kids would square off there. Despite being smaller than many of his opponents, he was reportedly successful in his first fight and others after. Along the way, Charles acquired the nickname “Snooks.”