Cobra's Corner

As part of its Cincinnati Legends series, ArtWorks on Oct. 3 will unveil a mural of legendary Cincinnati boxer Ezzard Charles on a three-story building at West Liberty and Republic streets.

As part of its Cincinnati Legends series, ArtWorks on Oct. 3 will unveil a mural of legendary Cincinnati boxer Ezzard Charles on a three-story building at West Liberty and Republic streets. The mural will provide a splash of color on the corner while celebrating the heavyweight pugilist’s legacy and connection to other local legends like Theodore Berry, the first African-American mayor of Cincinnati and Charles’ mentor.

“I came to ArtWorks last year with the idea of this Legends Series to uncover amazing stories in our city and feature these visually through murals with ArtWorks,” says Jason Snell, designer and founder of Over-the-Rhine branding and art studio We Have Become Vikings, who deigned and is helping oversee the mural. “The project is part history, education and city pride. Last year our first mural was the Cincinnati Strongman, and this year is James Brown and ArtWorks’ 100th mural, Ezzard Charles.”

“Working with ArtWorks is amazing,” Snell continues. “I’ve gotten to research and discover the Ezzard Charles story and help bring it to life with the help of ArtWorks and the mural team. Ezzard is a true community champion, and I cannot wait for people of all ages to discover his story like I did this year.”

Charles was born in Lawrenceville, Georgia, but moved to Cincinnati when he was 9. He graduated from Woodward High School in 1942 when he was already a promising upstart in the boxing world.

Nicknamed the “Cincinnati Cobra” for his nimbleness in the ring, Charles turned pro in 1940 when he was 18 years old and he would wear the gloves for 19 more. His professional debut was at the Armory in Middletown against Melody Johnson, another first-time boxer. Charles was pit against highly experienced boxers almost immediately and worked his way up to the top quickly, a fierce fighter with accurate punches and swift footwork.

Although now considered underrated by the boxing community, famous sportswriter Red Smith called Charles “the best fist-fighter of his particular time,” while ESPN rated him 27th greatest boxer of all time.

In the late 1940s, Charles trained on the third floor of the Color Building in Over-the-Rhine. The building, at 14th and Vine streets, was renovated in 2012 by 3CDC and is now home to Kaze, a Japanese gastropub.

Charles said once that he boxed because he had to “hear the music of the crowds.” But outside the ring, he played the music himself. An upright bassist, he was a contender in the Jazz scene, playing with Jazz greats like Duke Ellington and George Russell. The latter even wrote a song in his honor titled “Ezz-Thetic.”

A Facebook page was created last year in support of an Ezzard Charles Memorial Statue in Washington Park. The page describes the impact of boxers in a community’s culture outside the ring and cites the famous sculpture in Detroit for Joe Louis and the iconic Rocky statue in Philadelphia.

A recent film titled The Cincinnati Boxing Story, by Mark Sweeney, examines how Cincinnati is a boxing town that has long produced great fighters — most notably Charles himself — and examines this city’s boxing history with past and present champions and their supporters.

More information on the film is available at facebook.com/sweeneynowvideo. ©


ARTWORKS will unveil the Ezzard Charles mural at the corner of West Liberty and Republic streets at 10 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 3. More info: artworks.org .



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