Adeyinka Makinde, author of 'Dick Tiger-The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal' interviewed by Umar Abdullah Johnson on 'Garvey's Children,' Harambee Radio, 25th October 2005.
Philadelphia based Pan-Africanist, Umar Abdullah Johnson converses with his guest, Adeyinka Makinde over a range of themes based around Makinde's biography of Dick Tiger covering issues of race and racism in British and American boxing as well as ethnic nationalism in post-independence era Africa, situating the compelling life story and character of Dick Tiger within these issues. The programme is dedicated to those 117 persons whose lives were lost in an aviation disaster a few days before the interview.
Umar Abdullah Johnson: Good evening brothers and sisters, this is Brother Umar Abdullah Johnson and I would like to thank everyone for tuning in for another exciting show of 'Garvey's Children,' which is a show dedicated exclusively to the proper development of African children all throughout the world. For those of you who have followed me since the beginning of my sojourn here at Harambee Radio know that from time to time we deal with subjects which are not only pertinent to the development of African children but to the development of all African people and specifically to our level of knowledge and consciousness about our history, our culture, our present condition and where we want to go in the future. As I promised you all last week, we would be having an interview this week and it is actually going to be my first interview. So I’m actually very excited because it's the first one I'm going to be doing here on Harambee and I hope that it will be the first of many more. During the weeks coming in the future, I plan on bringing in a lot of (inaudible), psychologists, psychiatrists, educators and race leaders to help us discuss and plan our way out of the troubles that face (inaudible). Tonight, I have a brother who is joining us from the United Kingdom; a brother who I have been in contact with now for a couple of weeks putting this interview together and I’m glad that we have been finally able to do that. The brother who I'm bringing on is the author of a new book called Dick Tiger: The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal. And with no further ado, I would like to welcome brother Ade Makinde to our show this evening. Good evening brother.
Adeyinka Makinde: Good evening to you sir. Glad I could join you.
UAJ: I'm also glad that you were able to join me. And I'm also glad myself as well as the listening audience, will get an opportunity to learn more about you, your wonderful book and how they could come and get a copy of that. Now, to start off, I would just like to learn a little about you and have the audience get a little more familiar with who you are. So if you could take it to the next level and give us a little bit of your background and how it led you into deciding to do (a biography) of Dick Tiger.
AM: Yes. As certain people might recognise from my name, it's of Nigerian origin and to be more specific from the ethnic Yoruba group who are found in the western part of that country. My father was Nigerian. He was for many years a naval officer and then he retired and became a farmer and all-round businessman. My mother is from the African Diaspora. She was born (on) the island of Grenada in the Windward Islands of the Caribbean and both areas, Nigeria and Grenada, happen to have fallen under the influence of the British Empire and so it was that my parents met in London. I'm the fourth child of my parents and I grew up both in the United Kingdom and Nigeria. I was born in Nigeria and did most of my schooling there although I came over to the United Kingdom several times including when my father was posted there in the early 1970s. And I obviously went through the various stages of schooling; secondary, following on from primary school -secondary school is the equivalent of your High School in the United States- and from then on went to university. I took a degree in law and then I qualified as a barrister and since then I have worked as a company lawyer as well as (for) most of the time as a lecturer in law. I've always been fascinated by the written word. My father, and indeed, both of my parents always had a collection of books covering things to do with political history and biographical materials etcetera. One of the areas that has always fascinated me is history and certainly the history of Nigeria and this features a lot in my book because at the center point of the book or at a particular point of the book in its denouement, is the effects of the Nigerian Civil War during which or at the time before it happened, I happened to be born. So a lot of discussions about Nigeria and where it's heading to as a country has always centered on the civil war. Allied to that my interest in boxing figures like Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Robinson, Archie Moore, Jack Johnson...
UAJ: Sugar Ray Leonard
AM: Sugar Ray Leonard; coming up to the modern times -let's not forget them! Marvelous Marvin Hagler. Those two interests; boxing history (and) Nigerian history coalesced and found the almost perfect birth in this book.
UAJ: Okay. Excellent. Excellent. Now, I was astounded to hear the name Dick Tiger. Myself being a student of history and also a boxing fan -I was surprised to have never come across that name. For me, as an African living in America, I guess my knowledge of boxing and the influence that Africans had on the sport, sort of started with Jack Johnson and to learn about Dick Tiger actually taught me a very good lesson that I didn't know as much as I thought I did about the origins of blacks in the sport. Looking (at) Dick Tiger and framing him within the overall context of the influence that boxers of African origin have had in the sport, how major was his role in being able to get us more involved in the sport?
AM: I think he opened many doors. I do have to give a certain background to him because before you had Dick Tiger, I think the first boxer of African origin, that is, from the 'Mother Continent' -and not African descended- to win laurels at world title level was a Senegalese fighter called Battling Siki. He won the world light heavyweight championship from George Carpentier in the early 1920s. He had a fascinating life because he was just a 'poor boy' from the slums of Dakar, Senegal who was brought over to France. I think he was the servant stroke paramour of a French lady of standing and he somehow managed to become embroiled in the First World War; he joined as a soldier and won military honours. His fighting prowess, discovered by French troops was later noted by the American troops and he made his way to America. He lived in the Hells Kitchen area of New York. And then after Battling Siki, you had Hogan Bassey at featherweight, who was the first world champion to come from Nigeria, in the 1950s and in many ways Dick Tiger followed on from Hogan Bassey and surpassed his achievements.
UAJ: Okay. So would it be safe to say that he may have been the third successor in the lineage of African boxing?
AM: Yes. In between there were a few prominent figures but if you want to talk about those who absolutely reached the top, yes, I would actually put it that way. And his achievements actually surpassed those of Battling Siki and Hogan Bassey because at the time when you actually had by general consensus one world champion for each of the eight traditional divisions -not the multifarious 'alphabet soup' organisations and subdivisions of titles that you have in today's world, Dick Tiger was able to win two undisputed world titles at the middleweight division and the undisputed title at the light heavyweight division and so in that sense, if you add to that the glamour surrounding Madison Square Garden in the 1960s when it was the 'TV age' boxing was broadcast into many American homes on a weekly basis and he was a very popular figure and obviously his role in the Nigerian Civil War and his personality -a very respected figure in the boxing fraternity, you see the graduation and you can say that his personality (and) his fighting prowess opened the doors for future boxing stars like Azumah Nelson of Ghana and John Mugabi of Uganda and right up to the present day Ike Quartey and other fighters like Samuel Peter, the Nigerian heavyweight who recently lost a title fight to one of the Klitschko brothers.
UAJ: Let me ask you: do you see a connection between the progress of African boxers back home in Africa and the progress of African boxers here in America? Is there a pan-African connection?
AM: Yes and no. I think that -without deviating- that connection between Africa and America; certainly in the case of Dick Tiger and Hogan Bassey and even as I just mentioned in the case of Battling Siki, it wasn't usually a direct connection. It tended to be through Europe and Dick Tiger and Hogan Bassey were actually fighters who were part of this migration of West African fighters to Britain in the late 1940s and early 1950s who played a prominent role in boxing. It's often forgotten -even in Britain- that they kept the game alive during what was known as the Entertainment Tax era when there was a boxing recession caused by a 'double tax’ on the proceeds that were obtained from open air sporting events. So that (England) was the jump off point to America. America in many ways is the citadel of boxing and so if you're going to be judged as a true champion of boxing, at some point, you must prove yourself against American opposition. Nigeria, for many reasons, has not developed and is not as influential as it should be. Nigeria became independent from Great Britain in 1960 and apart from economic and social matters, on a sporting level with two world champions in the bag in quick succession -Hogan Bassey and Dick Tiger- it was expected that Nigeria would more than hold its own and that hasn't happened -I don't know if I'm answering your question correctly- if a fighter from Africa is going to prove themselves, at some point, they must prove it on American soil; before American audiences and I suppose that still holds true. All the African fighters who are known to any degree have had to fight in America. Azumah Nelson, known as 'The Professor;' a great featherweight champion, a popular fighter in the United States in the 1980s. And you've got some up and coming fighters now of African descent; West African, East (inaudible) who will duly be recognised (inaudible)
UAJ: On to his early years and basically, his development starts in leading him into the profession of boxing. Where did he come from and how did what he experienced in life influence him to get into the sport of boxing?
AM: He was born in the Eastern Region of what was then known as the British Protectorate of Nigeria. This was in 1929. The Eastern Region was dominated by people of the ethnic Igbo group and like all colonised groups; the area of sports was brought to Nigeria by the institutions of the military, missionaries and the education system. You had a structure of youth clubs and sport as part of the curriculum. Now Dick Tiger was born in a rural area. The Igbo people were beginning to be rapidly christianised in the early twentieth century, so his parents were both Christians and although he didn't speak the English language until possibly his adolescence, he had something of an education while still working in this sort of subsistence farming environment. I suppose that the closest thing to boxing which features in his life history; his lineage, is that of traditional wrestling. A number of his ancestors were traditional wrestlers. In the Igbo society, it could form the basis of social elevation and prestige. As a child, his father died very young. His mother could not cope with the number of sons she had so they were sort of fostered out to various uncles in the developing towns and (areas) of the Eastern region. And Dick Tiger traveled to a city called Aba, a very active, teeming city full of opportunities and he made his way and he developed himself as a minor entrepreneur and gradually, he also as a young man, had to relieve certain frustrations through the area of sports and boxing was growing in popularity in Nigeria at that time and they were fascinated by the boxers of Great Britain and of course from the United States. (In the) 1930s and 1940s, you had Henry Armstrong; the only man to hold three world titles simultaneously, you had Joe Louis, Sugar Ray Robinson, Archie Moore (all) African-Americans, in those days called Negroes and these were the people who were the stars of boxing and that had a big influence on the aspirations of certain African Youth and for somebody like Dick Tiger who did his best to get an education, but which was somewhat limited because of the financial situation, he got into boxing and started off as an amateur; although the lines between an amateur and professional were not (always) properly delineated in those days in Nigeria but he became a fairly competent boxer. He gained a reputation in the Eastern Region, which got the attention of people in the know in Lagos, the capital city, then the capital city, in the western part of the country. So his influence was from the sports that were played around him and I suppose the most popular sport in Nigeria is football -(in Americanised accent) I believe you Americans call it soccer...
AM: That was his first love but he did boxing through a youth club and he certainly became very competent at it. He was built for it. He was a solidly built, hard working young man. He'd built his physique working in the farm and then coming to the big city; he'd involved himself in forms of manual labour. So he had the underpinnings of physical structure to be allied to the skills he learned as a boxer. So those were basically the influences that led him into boxing.
UAJ: Okay. Being as though he became a pretty big name and a legend in the sport and being involved in the sport in the late 20s, 30s, 40s; how was he able to achieve greatness in the face of the overwhelming amount of racism that I assume existed at that time?
AM: He came of age; he would have been about 20 years old in the late 1940s, now at that time, a lot of Nigerian fighters were going to the United Kingdom. This was the post-war period and there'd been a migration of workers who were actually invited to the United Kingdom to help rebuild and rehabilitate the economy and they had the right of travel to the United Kingdom so there was that hurdle; certainly in the United Kingdom in terms of race and also to an extent, in America. First of all with regard to Britain, Dick Tiger eventually got to the United Kingdom in 1955; in the mid-1950s. Now at this time of migration Britain was looked on as the 'Mother Nation' and these workers; they worked in the health service, in hotel and catering and transport they'd been brought over to Britain or invited over to Britain -you did have that sort of pervading racism. Black Africans would go there and people would ask them seemingly innocuous questions (like) "Do you people have tails?" When they got to Britain in those days, there was a kind of a famous sign -so this affected Africans who were going there as students or who were going to work there- they'd have this sign which said: NO BLACKS, NO DOGS, NO IRISH. So obviously racism extended further than just being on the basis of colour -it also extended to Irish immigrants. And so there was that aspect there. When it came to boxing, of course people of African descent had already established themselves in America. Before you had Jack Johnson, you had several other great fighters: the original Joe Walcott who originated from Barbados; you know the 'Barbados Demon' and George Dixon. So this reputation of black fighters in America perhaps, in a way, indicated to the British that those fighters from the 'Mother Continent' might become somewhat adept at this sport when they got to Britain and they were, in many regards, accepted within boxing. The problem was their progress. That proved to be difficult because it was undeniable that you would have a better opportunity if you were a white fighter of certain amount of talent to develop and nurture you, whereas a lot of West African fighters were used as substitute fighters. There was no strategic development of their careers as such. For a lot of them, it was simply a case of "There's a fight tomorrow, the opponent's pulled out, do you think you could come in and substitute?" That sort of lack of preparedness -in a sense, although a lot of them were very hardworking and kind of trained; probably trained to the point of becoming stale- was against them. It wasn't that they were facing catcalls and stuff like that -not necessarily; it was just in that sense. I also should paint the backdrop to this time in the late 1940s, early 50s when black fighters were going to the United Kingdom namely that the British Boxing Board of Control actually up until the late 40s condoned what was known as the 'colour bar.' Now in the perspective of American boxing, the 'colour bar' is something which is somewhat infamous in the era after Jack Johnson. As you probably know, Jack Johnson was a very controversial figure and a threatening figure -not just because of his race but it was intensified because of his personality, which exacerbated that threat felt by the white boxing establishment towards him. And so after Jack Johnson was champion; when Jess Willard won the (heavyweight) championship from him, a black fighter did not have the chance to fight for the world heavyweight championship in America for over fifteen years; certainly not until the time of Joe Louis. So that factor was actually mirrored in Britain. It was mirrored in the sense that you did have black and mixed race fighters in Britain. Historically, Britain had had a black population, you know, they might have come as seamen from Elizabethan times, they might have come as servants for the aristocracy but there was always that presence there and consequently intermarriage etcetera. And there were a number of very good fighters who were of mixed race. They may have had a black father and a white mother and they were born in England but they were not allowed to fight for British titles no matter how talented they were; they could not fight for the British title and the reason given by the British Boxing Board of Control which succeeded the National Sporting Council was that -well there were two reasons. One was it was felt that because the black presence in boxing as noted in America was becoming more dominant, it was felt that if you allowed any black or mixed race person to fight for a British title; in a good amount of time was always the possibility that all titles could be held by black people or black descended people. And this is the reason given by then chairman of the British Boxing Board of Control. The second reason was that it was feared that rather like what happened at the time of Jack Johnson, there was the danger that if a black fighter did win a major fight, it could lead to outbreaks of violence in the empire in Britain and its outposts in the colonised areas. And so that so-called 'colour bar' -the debarring of fighters from fighting for titles continued until the late 1940s and what actually broke the mould were a couple of very talented brothers from a fighting family; the Turpins. Randolph Turpin, who many American boxing fans will remember for his contests with the immortal Sugar Ray Robinson. Randy Turpin defeated Robinson when Robinson was somewhere at his peak in 1951 -It was either 1951 or 1952- I think 1951. Here in Britain and Sugar Ray Robinson won the title (sixty-four days later) in New York after Turpin had actually being getting the upper hand -he just pulled it out of the bag and defeated Turpin. That was Turpin after five or six years after he was not entitled to fight for the British title; the title of his birth. His mother was white; an Englishwoman. His father had come from British Guyana northern part of South America but taken to be culturally part of the black Caribbean and he was a very competent, fantastic amateur fighter. Randy Turpin and his brother, Dick Turpin when they turned professional they just couldn't continue the 'colour bar' and so they just had to abrogate that system and black fighters were then allowed to fight for the British title. And also fighters from the empire like Dick Tiger coming from Nigeria, coming from the Gold Coast; now known as Ghana they still were not allowed to fight for British titles but they needed to be able to fight for something and so this is where the so-called Empire title -now known as the Commonwealth title- came in. In the past, when it had been formed in the early twentieth century, Empire titles could only be fought for by those of Anglo-Saxon or Celtic stock from the so-called 'white' dominion nations like Canada, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa as well as Britain itself. That was reformatted in the early1950s, so that these fighters who were now migrating from West Africa and other outposts of the empire could be able to fight for a title and so those were the hurdles that had to be faced as a black fighter in that period of history.
UAJ: Well, good information. We're going to go to a commercial break in about a minute then we'll finish the second half of this interview. And I have to tell you that I'm learning quite a lot because I didn't know as much about boxing as I thought and I knew probably next to nothing about boxing and the history of it back home in Africa and coming back from Africa where I was for the entire month of July (2005) I had a great time in Nigeria so I could kind of locate some of the places that you're speaking of when you were mentioning boxing in Nigeria and how it had developed but before we go over to a break and finish the second half of the interview, I would like for you to let the listeners know how they can purchase a copy of your book and we're actually going to have to do this again towards the end of the show but I wanted to put that information out there now to make sure that if someone wants your book, how do they get it?
AM: The most accessible manner of getting it would be at amazon.com or amazon dot Canada or the United Kingdom. It's increasingly becoming available in bookshops in Britain and I'm working on that in the United States.
UAJ: How many pages in the book? Give us a substance of...
AM: It's 312 pages.
AM: It tries to be an exhaustive volume and it's about fourteen chapters and (has) an index and full chronology of his life kind of in a nutshell fashion for the new viewer to look at and discern the main aspects of his life. It's in paperback format and there will be limited supplies of it in hardback fashion in due course.
UAJ: Did you self publish the book or did you go through an established publisher?
AM: No, it's self-published. It went to the publishing houses and they said, "Oh, very good writing but we're worried about the limitations in the market." So I said, "No. Let me go ahead. I think I know who is going to be interested in this like hardcore boxing fans, but it's not just the boxing aficionados: The Dick Tiger story covers aspects of political history, social history; so I always felt that it would have an interest on a purely biographical basis but also in terms of African interest; black diaspora interest, you know, it does cover many angles.
UAJ: Well, I'm quite sure with 312 pages, it's definitely a complete piece of work. A lot of times you see biographies; there's some that are very brief and don't give you enough and then there are some that are kind of 'middle-of-the-way' but there're still questions that you might have after finishing reading it; but with 312 pages, I'm sure you did a real good job in being able to answer most of the questions that a reader would have. I know you mentioned social and political aspects of Dick Tiger's career that would probably be of importance to all of us. I would just like you to think about that for a minute because when we come back from the commercial break I want us to get involved in the social and political aspects of his career or how his career influenced different aspects of social and political thought. Thinking, about boxing here in the United States, you had Jack Johnson with some of the comments that he would make outside of the ring and some of the practices he indulged in outside of the ring such as his traveling with white women which brought him some disdain from white society at large or I can think of Muhammad Ali when he refused to enlist in the draft for Vietnam and how that put him right in the centre of the political sphere and still recently I can look at Mike Tyson, although he himself wasn't a very political personality just by virtue of his youth or what many considered to be his immaturity, he's often used as a poster boy of why blacks in boxing isn't necessarily a good thing so that's something I would like to talk about on the other side of this break. And I just wanted to leave our listeners again with the information If you're interested and I'm quite certain many of you are and I would encourage many of those listening who are not interested in getting a copy that you definitely (should) do so, (because) it's definitely a neglected aspect of our history. For those of us here in the United States of America who need to learn more about Africa and what our people have been through over there historically and even in the present times, I think that this book would be an excellent addition to your library and again it is entitled 'Dick Tiger: The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal' and it is available at amazon.com so you can go right on the Internet, amazon.com, actually, I just ordered some books from amazon about a week or two ago and it had a very simplistic ordering style; you'll probably be there for only two to three minutes and complete your order. And still more importantly, not only will you learn about a great boxing legend, you'll also be supporting our brother, Ade Makinde because we want him to be able to go back to the publishing houses who were unwilling to publish the book to say, "Look, I'm doing quite well on my own getting this book distributed to those who want to learn more about African's in boxing." You're listening to Garvey's Children. I'm you're host brother Umar Abdullah Johnson. Joining us tonight on our show is brother Ade Makinde who is joining us from the United Kingdom who is author of a brand new book, Dick Tiger: The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal. So please stay tuned; we're going to finish the second half of the interview right after these messages.
UAJ: Good evening brothers and sisters. I want to welcome everybody back who has been listening to the show thus far this evening. It's a very enlightening and educative show. This evening we're talking about Dick Tiger, a brand new book by our brother Ade Makinde who is our guest tonight on Garvey's Children and Dick Tiger is a famous African boxing legend and we're talking about him and the new book, the new biography that has been written about him by our brother Ade Makinde. Those of you who are just joining us, please tune in, please listen out because there's a lot of good information coming across the airwaves tonight and I'm learning a lot, not only about Dick Tiger but about the impact that African boxers in Africa have had on the sport. Getting right back into our topic this evening, brother Ade could you tell us what influence did Dick Tiger's life, his profession have on the political landscape of Nigeria, Africa and the United Kingdom.
AM: Dick Tiger, by virtue of his rise to prominence, was placed in a position as a lot of famous people are whereby his deeds, his attitudes you know, were sort of taken by those who were not familiar with where he came from so when it comes to social-political matters in America, for instance, he was there fighting at the time of the American Civil Rights Movement, when the civil rights movement was developing and the so-called 'colour bar' had been removed officially from American boxing. You know after Joe Louis won the title, Jackie Robinson broke through in baseball. Boxing was seen as being an almost (meritocratic) environment, one place where if you were good enough, you would succeed. And he had that mentality. When he came over to America in 1959 a lot of people, including black Americans were not familiar with Africans and so he had to endure a number of (disparaging) comments. He was a striking fellow in the sense that (inaudible) a fit looking man with tattoos etched into his body and outside of the ring, he (wore a homborg hat and) the 'Anthony Eden' coat and spoke in this quasi-Anglicized accent but a lot of the times he would encounter these sly comments, you know, they'd assume "Your name is Dick Tiger, did you fight things like Tiger's in Africa?" and he'd reply to them, "There are no Tiger's in Africa -only in Asia." You know, " I never saw a Tiger in my life until I went to Liverpool zoo." You know there'd be this banter about cannibalism and headhunting. He took it in his stride. He'd tell them, "We'll you know we used that to do that stuff but we ate up the Governor-General and he kind of made us puke." He'd kind of (parry) that sort of thing with humour but inwardly he did not like it. On the occasion when Medger Evers was assassinated, he surreptitiously referred to those 'cannibals' who "shoot you in the back." So it was on that sort of level. But he felt that it was his duty to educate journalists about Nigeria and Africa and they remember that. You know, a journalist of the time, Milton Gross, they knew that he tried to explain the geography and the economics and the language of the place he came from and the only time that he came up against a potentially racist situation in his career was sometime in the early 60s he was due to fight a fighter in New Orleans.....
UAJ: I'm sorry but how old was he at this time?
AM: He was in his early thirties; which is actually pretty late for a boxer because he didn't start boxing until his late teens. And so the fighter pulled out -a black American- and it was touted that okay he could fight a guy called Joey Giardello or somebody and of course this was New Orleans in the early 60s. There was not a tradition of black fighters fighting white fighters in a ring. This hadn’t happened for over a hundred -well, not a hundred years but since the late 19th century and so it was kind of "Goodness me Tiger, how's he going to fight anyone now?" But that issue was somewhat alleviated because the guy who he was going to fight eventually did fight him so he had to contend with these social phenomena. He was the only high profile African sportsman in America in those days and he felt that it was his duty to promote Nigeria and he was always speaking (against the images of Africa Americans would) perceive from Tarzan movies and other forms of popular culture and it wasn't so much he was (inaudible) because of the amount of exposure in his life (inaudible) arrived and so from being a hero, a national hero in Nigeria; he had a big fight in the city of Ibadan in 1963 against Gene Fullmer for the world middleweight title and it was the biggest sporting event ever held there. They held it in an open air stadium and he was the embodiment of the promise of Nigeria and you had political truces in the regional parliaments between political foes, you had national holidays, you had an advert on the morning of the fight which had Dick Tiger superimposed on the African continent and so he was a means to nation building. He was that much of a hero among Nigerians and other Africans but with the coming of the civil war the Eastern (inaudible) of Nigeria there had been a military coup in 1966 in January. A lot of the officers (involved) were of Igbo ethnic origin and it was felt that they were attempting to impose some sort of hegemony over the rest of Nigeria, so there was a counter-coup (in July 1966) and there were pogroms in which soldiers of Igbo origin and civilians were massacred and Dick Tiger took the stance as the time for separation was coming that he had no alternative but to give his support to the new state of Biafra and so in one fell swoop, the man who was the embodiment and the hero of Nigerian unity and progress he was all of a sudden saddled with the reputation of being the secessionist; a champion of secession. He used his prestige in America to promote the Biafran cause. He used his money. So before his fights, you had the Biafran anthem played out on live TV. He would donate a lot of his purses towards medical supplies for Biafrans caught up in the conflict. He became a distributor of communications gadgets to the Biafran military and security services and he basically kind of promoted that cause until the end of the civil war in 1970 when the Biafrans were outnumbered, they were outgunned and eventually outmanoeuvered. And they had to surrender.
UAJ: When you think about Dick Tiger and as you worked on the biography in comparison to other boxers, what do you feel were the main points in his career that really separated him from the other boxers or just kind of made him stand out. What was it about him and his career that made him a remarkable man?
AM: I think that what made him so popular was -and so remarkable was the simplicity of his boxing style. He achieved great popularity among American fight fans and the reason was not because he was an exotic African or he was this or that, it was purely based on his fighting style and the interesting thing was that people latched onto that purporsiveness, that honesty and simplicity of his fighting style which brought the crowds to Madison Square Garden -because after you didn't have the live television fights; those were discontinued sometime in 1964 and so with the ending of the 'TV age' you needed fighters who could attract the 'missing' public back to the stalls and Dick Tiger, with the excitement he created; the sort of blue collar, honest-to-god, spit-on-your-fists kind of mentality he brought to the fight game; he was very popular among fight fans and they latched onto that because America with its own tribal heritage of Irish-Americans, Italian-Americans, Puerto Rican-Americans; they followed their fighters a lot and supported them a great deal (but) Dick Tiger did not have much of a constituency of Africans in New York but somehow he would dominate the cheers or at least, equal the cheers of the fans in the hall no matter how well supported the other fighter might (inaudible) or Joey Archer who was Irish-American, (or Nino Benvenuti) -Italian born but he fought before Italian(-American) audiences or Frankie DePaula a very popular competitor of Italian-American origin; he could match these guys and that tells you something about why he stands (out) because of his fighting style and when people came to know him (they found out) that he was an absolute gentleman. He wasn't the sort of man who chased women, he drank to a minimum. He had eight children but all with the same woman who he was apparently devoted to for all his life and took great pride and care with his children and this was reported in the press so the reason why he was respected transcends his virtues in the ring; it was his virtues as a man that has elevated him. But I must say that essentially he was a boxer and what he achieved -although he did not have long reigns as a world champion but that was because in the 1960s, you had a great amount of talent, you know, some of them forgotten; some of them half-remembered. You had the George Benton’s, you had Rubin 'Hurricane' Carter for a while, you had Joey Giardello, Gene Fullmer, Paul Pender, many very good fighters in the middleweight division and also the light heavyweight (division) and nevertheless, he managed to win two world title fights; undisputed two world championships at middleweight and one world title at light heavyweight -I mean not many boxers can claim that and this as said earlier on in the programme, this was at a time when you did not have the divisions or multiplication of world titles at different weights. This was a time when there was usually just one champion in one of only eight divisions. He won it twice. He was the first man to win the world light heavyweight title after having won the world middleweight title since Bob Fitzsimmons sixty-three years earlier on. This was in 1966 when he beat Jose Torres. Also, as a fighter, he had that same honesty and dedication which showed -because he was in his late thirties and he was still going strong so on that basis - what he achieved as a world championship level fighter and what he achieved given his age which is relatively old by boxing standards in his late thirties fighting opponents who were taller than him, heavier than him, had a longer reach than him and he could still win in a foreign land due to his hard work and his dedication and his persistence inspite of all the obstacles he face in his career. This is why he stands out still, today.
UAJ: For me, being a fan of the honourable Marcus Garvey. I'm very sensitive to famous African figures who were very influential often being overlooked by the society at large and even by African people in particular who should never let such personalities escape their memory. With Dick Tiger being so remarkable a fellow and being so influential and so remarkable as a boxer in his day with legacy that far surpasses the legacy of current day boxers. Why do you think that Dick Tiger and his career has been allowed to be overlooked by boxing fans today and by the sport in general? How were they able to pass such a remarkable man by?
AM: I have to say that because he fought in the 1960s, a lot of fighters whatever their origins were overshadowed by the figure of Muhammad Ali. There were many good fighters of African-American origin and other origins. You had the fighter from Brazil known as Eder Jofre, Carlos Ortiz; a Puerto Rican fighter. You had many good, good fighters of that era but I think that because of the whole personality and phenomenon surrounding Muhammad Ali; Muhammad Ali was such a colossus that even among boxing fans, there is a tendency to overlook some of these great fighters one of which is Dick Tiger. I mean his life is so fascinating but, I guess part of it is that yes, he did have this popularity in America but he was still somewhat of an exotic; came from Africa via Europe; you know, Nigeria via England and it just seemed that for whatever reason, they would just remember the good old days of Dick Tiger but just in sparse, biographical format in the occasional boxing magazine remembrance. There was never a proper biography done on him and I don't know why that is other than what I've just said about the dominating personality of Muhammad Ali overshadowing boxers of that era but probably the more galling aspect of it is not so much among American fight fans who remember him very, very well -he's been inducted into the International (Boxing) Hall of Fame; it's more his reputation in his homeland; Nigeria where after the civil war there was a remarkable peace inaugurated. The Nigerian Civil War started off in a terrible fashion, like all wars do, with pogrom and it certainly did not put in a good light the aspirations of African progress especially Nigeria being the hope of Africa to descend into such chaos and violence but, nevertheless, when the Biafrans were defeated, the Head of State at the time, General Gowon, popularised the phrase "No Victor, No Vanquished." So for all the mayhem that had been caused, the Igbo ethnic group was reabsorbed into the body politic of Nigeria. They were allowed back into the military, into the civil service although at the ranks or stations they had been before the war began and even the Western press had to acknowledge that never had such a peace been brought upon in that sense. The war was violent, it was terrible but it ended -which is not to say that there weren’t random acts of violence afterwards but essentially it was a peace. But the problem was that (while) a lot of his people were rehabilitated and reabsorbed into the Nigerian body politic but somehow Dick Tiger, his memory was not because he died soon after the civil war. He was stricken with cancer and died at a very early age at 42 years of age and because of his vehement support for the Barren cause -remember he was playing the Biafran anthem, he was announced by MCs as "Dick Tiger of Biafra," he talked about the massacres and war crimes he claimed were committed by the Nigerian military against Biafran citizens, he gave up his MBE medal awarded by the Queen in 1963; he handed it back to the British embassy in (Washington D.C.) in 1969 just as the Biafran regime was collapsing- the Nigerian government never forgot his deeds and in many ways because he volunteered; he voluntarily became this passionate apostle of Biafran secession; in many ways, that was seen as being unforgivable because it would have been easy to have forgiven somebody who was a 'normal,' ordinary Igbo individual (who was) caught up in the war. He fought on the Biafran side. The war's now ended, it's been decreed there's peace: "No Victor, No Vanquished;" it wouldn't have been a problem but because he had used his prominence that was seen as a dangerous thing. He spoke to the New York Times; he joined the Biafran military and became a captain in the Propaganda Corp of the Biafran Army. He spoke to American journalists; Western journalists -that was seen as a dangerous thing because he was doing this from the 'outside' so Nigeria was always terrified that America would support the Biafran cause because there had been signs that people like Richard Nixon that when he came to power in 1968, that maybe he might be favourable to their cause. Britain supported the Federal Nigerians and because Dick Tiger did that and in such a vehement fashion, he was never really forgiven and for that reason his legacy is shrouded in a lot of mist. You can't help but notice the stark contrast between when he was there winning the world title; being the national hero against Gene Fullmer in Nigeria in the earlier part of the 1960s and he was getting laudatory messages from Kwame Nkrumah, the great Pan-Africanist and then you take that to the 70s when he's just died and the Nigerian government did not have the courtesy to send his family any messages of condolence. You see the stark contrast that even in Nigeria today, he is not a remembered figure and I could detect that as a child. I didn't know exactly until later on but as a child, I remember Hogan 'Kid' Bassey, who was Nigeria's first world champion; he coached Nigeria's amateur boxers, always on the television; in the media. But Africans are supposed lionize their dead people like most people do, you know, their great heroes and I did know of Dick Tiger as a boy but why did we not know more about him as should have been befitting given that he brought so much glory to Nigeria? And the reason is obviously lies in his role in the Nigerian Civil War. You know, fifteen years after he died, one of his daughters wanted the National Sports Commission in Nigeria to rename a stand in the National Stadium in his honour and the figure she went to basically told her: "I'm quite sympathetic to you but a lot of people still remember his role at the height of the civil war and I'm afraid we can't do that." That was coming in Nigeria so I would say the 'forgotten aspect is compounded when you look at how he is remembered among his countrymen today. That's what's stark It's not so surprising when you look further afield, say in America where he is fondly remembered to a certain degree but we can sort of say that the figure of Muhammad Ali kind of dominated that era to a point but a lot of boxers are not as well remembered as probably they should be although perhaps none of them took a significant stance in the way Dick Tiger did and had an extraordinary life over three continents. He should have been better remembered. Yeah.
UAJ: Well, as we wind down this interview, I just want to thank you for joining us brother Ade; joining us this evening and be willing to share all of this wonderful information about an oft neglected hero of ours that we should all know. I for myself am very interested in getting my hands on a copy of one of the books because I'd like to read more about it myself to learn more about Dick Tiger. I'm a boxing fan although I'm probably a novice in this field. I just tend to have my heroes but Dick Tiger is now an addition to my list of boxing heroes and I look forward to learning more about him. To all of our brothers and sisters listening to the show across the world if you are interested in and I'm quite certainly sure that you are interested in getting a copy of brother Ade Makinde's biography entitled Dick Tiger: The Life and Times of a Boxing (Immortal) please, please go to amazon.com so you can order a copy of your book. Do you know how much the biography will cost in US dollars, brother Ade?
AM: Yes, it costs fourteen dollars ninety-five.
UAJ: Which is a very good price for a three hundred-plus-page-book.
AM: That's right. It's that price just for a couple of months. It will go up to eighteen dollars ninety-five. That's a discounted price.
UAJ: So you'll need to get your hands on it right away. As someone who buys books quite regularly, I can't remember the last time I've seen a three hundred-plus-page book for less than about thirty dollars. Once you get up to that three hundred page level, you have to dig into your pockets a little deeper, so as he said brothers and sisters the book is now fourteen dollars ninety-five I believe and it's going to go up shortly, so tomorrow first thing in he morning or if it is already morning for you need to or if you're not going straight to bed right after this radio show, then you need to go click up amazon.com and go ahead and order a copy of your book; Dick Tiger: The Life and Times of a Boxing (Immortal). If there are any listeners who desire to get in contact with you, is there an e-mail address or website that they could visit if they wanted to send you some messages or questions?
AM: Oh yes. If you type in my name into google you will get my details and I also have some WebPages on Dick Tiger, it's a bit lengthy but it does go by the title of the book Dick Tiger: The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal and my email address is there: firstname.lastname@example.org. I know that might be a bit of a mouthful for some of us but just type in Dick Tiger and my name will come up somewhere along the line. If I can spell it for people, it's M-A-K-I-N-D-E. So type that in with Dick Tiger and my details and my e-mail address will come up. And I do write about boxing on the Internet so my name is featured with boxing articles on fight figures as well as fight reports from ringside.
UAJ: Perfect. Very, very good information. So as you've all heard brother Ade just tell you, you can do a google put his name in there and even if you do a general search on Dick Tiger or if you specifically put the title of the book in do a search in Dick: The Life and Times of Boxing (Immortal), you will certainly come upon his name and some of the web pages he has posted up but please make sure that you go to amazon.com and order you a copy of the book. Probably in the near future brother Ade, I'll have you come back on; maybe we'll talk a little more about the book but in addition to that, now that I know that you are a barrister-at-law, I'd probably want to have a show with you where we can talk about the legal ramifications or should I say the legal-political situation under which blacks in both Nigeria and in the United Kingdom live and how they can probably come together in unity and do something on the legal level to improve this situation. Myself; being a student of Political Science, I think that a show deals with the legal circumstances under which Africans in both Nigeria and the United Kingdom live would probably give us a lot of good information that our listeners can use, so that's something that I would probably like for you to think about.
AM: Absolutely. It would be my pleasure. I think that the advancement of civil rights includes social and economic strategies, but also legal strategies. In America you have Brown versus Board of Education, Plessey versus Ferguson. These are cases of great political ramifications and the law itself does play something of a part Britain in terms of race relations law; protecting the rights of individuals. It's not the be all and end all -progress has to come from the hearts and minds of people in general and in particular the progress that black people should make economically. It's vital; you just can't place your hopes in just political action. They must be able to back it up with economic freedom.
UAJ: Totally agree. I totally agree. And as we close, there is something that I just wanted to mention. And I don't mention it in a morbid sense because I'm quite certain that these brothers and sisters of ours who have passed on, are now with the ancestors and being watched over by the most high creator but on Monday, yesterday, when it was posted, but it actually happened about two or three days ago unfortunately there was a plane crash in Nigeria and one hundred and seventeen people who were aboard this commercial liner died shortly after it had taken off. The flight was on its way from Lagos and it was going to be a fifty minute flight and I think it was headed to Abuja and I think it was on the Bell Air flight, anyhow, from what I could understand, the pilot as soon as he got up in the air could tell that something wasn't right with the flight and so he then made plans to land but he wasn’t able to do as quickly as he would have liked and so as a result of that, the jet liner crashed killing one hundred and seventeen people so as we talk about Nigeria, Dick Tiger brother Ade and myself who just a few months ago I visited Nigeria where I was received in very high esteem and it's a segment of my African tour that I will always cherish -as I will cherish the entire tour- but loads of individuals that I met there in Nigeria in Port Harcourt, in Lagos and Enugu who will just forever change the way I see my life and the way I view myself as an African and in fact I'm planning a return trip back to Nigeria and in fact, I have even had have had an e-mail conversation today with some of brothers there. But anyhow, I would just ask all of the Africans who are listening to the show tonight to offer a prayer, a libation, some sort of meditation on behalf of these passengers who passed away on that flight from Lagos to Abuja. Every time you get up in the air, I always say that you are in God's hands; God takes you up and only God can bring you safely back down and myself having traveled on Bell Air and having went from Lagos to also Abuja or Ibadan, I feel near and dear to this particular tragedy because it could have been me just a couple of months ago. I was on the same plane, same route, same company and I don't say that to scare you away from traveling because the chances of you dying in a car wreck are a whole lot higher than in a plane crash because rarely do planes crash and even in Africa believe it or not, their rate of plane loss is a lot lower than it is for most of the so-called industrialized nations. I believe that this plane crash in Nigeria was the first one in about ten long years so they are definitely excellent aviators over on the Mother Continent and I would urge every one to take a trip to Nigeria, which is Africa's most populous nation. I'm actually in the process of trying to buy some land in Nigeria with the group I'm working with and I’m going to try to get a lot of things started but Nigeria looks to be the land of promise for Africans as we look back home towards Africa to re-settle ourselves and establish a truly pan-African network through out the world and in closing, I would just like to ask brother Ade to give a final statement of what he would like our listeners to take from tonight's interview.
AM: I would just like people, to albeit they may not all be boxing fans, to understand that the ideals of determination, of persistence, of striving for your goals as difficult as it may seem to be, (and) also to be able to make hard decisions in your life and to stand by your conscience no matter what the costs are these are the themes I've explored in my book and they've been explored not through the figure of a politician or a General or a social activist it's been explored through the life of a boxer and that's just what I just want to say. It may be that boxing is a somewhat specialised and almost marginalized area but you can find these central themes and threads that all human beings can relate to and you can find that in the life of Dick Tiger.
UAJ: Thank you very, very much brother Ade again. I can't tell you how happy I am and delighted that you were able to join us tonight. We will definitely do it again good brother. Please order the brothers book. Please visit the web page as designed for all of us to take a look. I hope that tonight's show has touched the minds and lives of all of you listening as much as it has my own. So again I would like to thank everyone for tuning in for another exciting edition of Garvey's Children. Please join us next week, as we will focus on the third part of our black male-female relationship series and we hope that you all tune in next Tuesday and every Tuesday from eleven p.m. to midnight as we deal with issues that are critical to our development as a people. I would like to thank brother Ade for coming on. I want to thank Harambee Radio, I'd like to thank all the listeners out there from around the world. Please have a good night always, always strive to do your best, always do something to help the condition of African people around the world. As my cousin, the late Frederick Douglas would always say," If there's no struggle, there is no progress." Peace and until next week. God bless.
Umar Abdullah Johnson, M.S., Ed.S., is by profession an Educational Psychologist. He is the President of the International Movement for the Independence and Protection of African People (I.M.I.P.A.P.)
Adeyinka Makinde is a barrister by training and a Lecturer in Law. A student of boxing, his columns and articles on the sport have appeared on the World Wide Web. He has also contributed to the journal, African Renaissance.
Copyright. Adeyinka Makinde (2006)