When I was growing up in the 1950s, almost all disputes between males were resolved with hand fights. This meant that any youth who could use his hands as weapons enjoyed a certain amount of prestige in the streets.
As one grows older, one appreciates more the role that perspective plays in opinions. One gets into fewer arguments, because one realizes that the person who disagrees with one often is only coming from a different perspective.
The story of Ludwig Lightburn, a poor, black youth from Lightburn’s Alley off Hyde’s Lane on the Northside, has never been properly researched and told. My personal opinion is that this is just one more example of the institutionalized racism in the intellectual world of Belize. But, that’s just old X.
The Mexicans across the border would invite Belizeans who were skilled in boxing and football to compete with them in Chetumal, for instance. If the Belizean was victorious, he would be invited to travel further north, Ciudad del Carmen or Merida say, to meet superior Mexican competition. If the Belizean continued to prevail in boxing, he could end up all the way in Mexico City, which is what happened with Ludwig in the early 1950s.
When I published Sports, sin and subversion in 2008, Pulu Lightburn told me that his dad, the late Bill Lightburn, had advised Ludwig that he should go to the United Kingdom to gain entry to the world boxing stage, as opposed to moving through Mexico and from there to the United States. History might have been different. Who knows?
At one point Ludwig Lightburn was the British Empire and Commonwealth lightweight champion and ranked as high as no. 3 in the world in Nat Fleischer’s prestigious Ring magazine. Americans who saw him thought Ludwig reminded them, in a smaller version, of the legendary Sugar Ray Robinson, the world middleweight champion on various occasions. Sugar Ray in his time was considered, pound-for-pound, the greatest boxer in the world.
The story goes that an American boxing manager named Allie Clarke bought Ludwig’s contact in Mexico City and took the youth to New York City to fight in Madison Square Garden, boxing’s mecca in America and in the world. Can you imagine? From Lightburn’s Alley to Madison Square Garden. For children like me in Belize in the middle 1950s, Ludwig Lightburn was a total idol. We listened to his fights on US Armed Forces Radio short wave.
The problem for Ludwig, and we Belizeans learned this long afterwards, was that Allie Clarke was a member of, or owned by, the Vito Genovese “family” in New York City. The Genovese family was a very, very powerful Mafia crime family in The Big Apple, and the Mafia families controlled boxing at the highest levels in those days. In fact, the Genovese family controlled Joe Brown, then the lightweight champion of the world. They didn’t want Ludwig upsetting their apple cart, as it were, so Ludwig ended up in two “over-the-weight” fights with a Cuban welterweight named Isaac Logart. Ludwig made money for his managers, but he injured an eye. Most people I’ve talked to felt that Ludwig could have beaten Joe Brown with one hand tied behind his back. (I’m exaggerating, of course.)
On Independence Day 2020, when Hon. Patrick Faber, Leader-elect of the ruling United Democratic Party (UDP), announced that his government was honoring the very first Leader of the People’s United Party (PUP), Johnny Smith, by naming the new airport link road after him, I was really thrown for a loop. All I could do to calm myself was say, perspective, perspective, perspective …
Johnny Smith resigned as Leader of the youthful, militantly anti-colonial PUP in late November of 1951, just a couple weeks after the repressive colonial government of British Honduras imprisoned PUP leaders Leigh Richardson and Philip Goldson on bogus sedition charges. Smith offered reasons for his resignation, which included charges of PUP involvement with Guatemalan agents, but the mood/thinking in the streets of the old capital was that he had chickened out because of what happened to Richardson and Goldson. So, Johnny Smith became a real villain for the PUP faithful, and, to make matters worse for him, he ran as an Independent against the PUP’s iconic Rt. Hon. George Cadle Price in the Belize North constituency in the historic 1954 general election, the first ever under universal suffrage in the colony. Smith was very badly beaten by Mr. Price, and left Belize to live in the United States.
Just to give you a sense of how Johnny Smith’s name was wiped out of Belize history, I had never even seen a photograph of Mr. Smith until last week when one of the television evening news produced one. So where did the airport link road honoring come from?
One of my sources suggested that the Hon. Sedi Elrington may have been involved with the process in some way. This made some sense to me, because, in the first instance, Patrick Faber had not been born in 1951, and, in the second instance, this is the kind of strange perspective Sedi has become known for over the years. Johnny Smith instead of Ludwig Lightburn? How weird.