BY DENISE CLAY/ Until Saturday, I didn’t know that Philadelphia boxing legend Joe Frazier wasn’t born here.
Apparently, Frazier, who at one time was Heavyweight Boxing Champion of the world and was best known for the three blockbuster fights he had with former champion Muhammad Ali, was born in Beaufort, S.C.
Now why is that important?
It’s because on Saturday, during a birthday tribute to Frazier at the African American Museum in Philadelphia, it was announced that a bridge on Highway 21 in Beaufort would be named in honor of the champ.
But while many of those in the room at AAMP who shared memories, watched videos of his boxing and singing exploits, and honored his achievements on what would have been his 69th birthday were happy for that, they’ll be happier when he’s finally honored by the place that was his boxing home.
Co-hosted by his son-in-law “Big” Pete Lyde and radio legend Thera Martin Milling, luminaries ranging from heavyweight champion Larry Holmes and various local elected officials came to sing Frazier’s praises.
There were also musical performances, including one of Joe Frazier doing a song-and-dance thing on a stage in Atlantic City sometime in the early to mid ’80s. (I have to admit that surprised me. I always thought Frazier’s performance in a Miller Lite beer commercial in the late ’70s was actually someone else singing. It’s nice to know he was a renaissance man.…)
I learned, for example, why Frazier’s gym, which is now a furniture store on N. Broad Street, was never completely closed. “There would be all of these people in the gym,” Big Pete said. “And they’d just stay there. We’d ask [Frazier] if he wanted us to get them to leave, and he’d say no because while they were in there, they were safe.”
But almost to a person, they also called on Philadelphia to honor its favorite boxing son with a much-deserved statue. “It’s taking too long for Philadelphia to honor a real champ,” said Congressman Bob Brady, one of the many elected officials who stopped by. Mayor Michael Nutter, who remembered listening to Frazier’s fights on the radio when he was a kid, pledged the city’s continued support in finding a place to put the statue.
But if the city needs any help in terms of getting its act together on where the statue needs to go, they might want to ask the folks in Beaufort, S.C.