by Frank Hyde
March 30, 1946
Part 1 of 4
Jimmy Clark Could Have Been Greatest of all Middleweights
"Jimmy Clark Could Have Been Greatest of all Middleweights" Jack Johnson
One afternoon 18 years ago, a slender Negro boy trudged home from school at Titusville, PA., with a jeering crowd of white boys dogging his footsteps.
It was simply one of those schoolboy neighborhood rows, but it was also racial discrimination at its ugliest.
Finally, unable to bear the tirade of insults any longer the tirade of insults any longer, the boy turned on his tormentors, ebony fists lashed out and in three minutes the panting, disheveled Negro lad claimed the field alone. Picking up his battered felt hat, he banged it angrily and continued his way homeward.
Nine years later that same Negro boy sat in a sun splashed ring in Paris, France and grinned across at dark visaged, glowering Pluto Sancassiani, pride of Hungaria. His mind trekked back through the years. It had been a long and rough trail from Titusville to Paris, but his nimble feet and crushing fists had traversed it, leaving a procession of knockout victims strewn across his wake.
Jimmy Clark straightened quickly as the referee strolled to center. A big, bronzed man with close cropped hair leaned through the ropes and patted him on the back. "Go get him, Jim," he remarked quietly. "This is for the championship."
The big man was Lou Nova, later to fight Joe Louis for the world's heavyweight title. Nova was right. This one was for the amateur championship - the amateur middleweight championship of the world, the pre-Olympics.
It has been said Pluto Sancassiani was a good boy, kind to his parents and all that, but he had about as much chance that day against the cyclonic clouter from America as a bubble in a cactus patch.
Battered and bleeding, Sancassiani back-peddled, clinched, hung on and fought in spurts as the ebony hued, muscular marvel wearing the colors of the United States of America around his waist, stalked him with all the savage consistency of a hungry lion. The clang of the bell was a welcome sound to Pluto, whom immediately packed his duffle and headed back to the quiet solitude of his farm house in Hungaria, never to don mitts again.
And so Jamestown Jimmy Clark became the champ!
"That was the greatest day in my life," Jamestown Jim told the author in his quiet, polite way. "I had brought Western New York its first and only international amateur boxing title... America, I knew, was proud of me... So were my teammates... They crowded around, slapped my back and told me I'd be a professional champ as sure as the sun rises and sets... Maybe I could have been, but you have to walk the straight and narrow to be a champ... I strayed off a couple of times and maybe that's why I didn't make it... When you're young, success is flattering... Training gets to be a bore... You want to have a good time... And I had lots of good times... And I didn't become a professional champion."
It might be well to go back and pick up a couple of loose ends.
Jimmy Clark was born in Norfolk, Va., on Feb. 15, 1915, 14 days after the birthday observance of the Great Emancipator who had freed his race. His parents moved to Pennsylvania when he was but a youngster and settled in Titusville.
Here Jimmy learned one bitter lesson - that there is still work for men like Abraham Lincoln.
"There weren't too many of us colored folks in Titusville, so we kids had to kind of take care of ourselves," he explains.
They'll tell you today down Titusville way that the Clark kid did a pretty good job of caring for himself. And they'll tell you, too, that in Titusville Jimmy learned the shortest route between two points is straight across, and that no matter how tough or big they are, they'll go down if you hit 'em in the right spot - and often enough... Sort of a Bob Fitzsimmons theory in practice years after The Cornishman had turned to dust.
Anyway, long about 1929, Jim was forced to fight so often a fellow named Jim Ellsworth, now chief of police in Titusville, took him down to the station and gave him a good talking to. It didn't do any good, though, because some of the white toughs were out to get the Clarks, so Jim just kept right on putting them in their places. That was when Ellsworth decided that if the Negro boy was going to fight, he might as well do it in the ring, so he introduced him one night at an American Legion smoker.
That night Jim served as a convert for the first time - he converted his first boxer from a fighter to a farmer. His opponent was Skinny Valesky. Skinny went out like a light as the dark cloud clouded up and rained all over him. But Skinny couldn't resist temptation for he tackled Clark twice after that with the same results... Then Skinny, his mind at peace, went back to his chicken raising.
But Skinny can still tell, as he gathers the hen fruit, how he started a champ on his way, for shortly after those smoker fights, the Clarks moved to Jamestown. It was out of our city that James Clark hied forth, whip 'em as they came, to write three all-time knockout records into AAU files and to reach the pinnacle in that sun splashed ring in Paris.
It's quite a saga, the story of this colored clouter whom, none other than Jack Johnson, regarded by many as the king of all heavyweight champions, once said "could have been the greatest middleweight that ever lived, including Stanley Ketchell, if he so decreed."