Aug. 21, 1947: In the newspapers, he was “The Black Shadow of Leiperville,” “The Black Baron of Leiperville,” “The Black Giant of Leiperville,” “The Black Shadow of Los Angeles,” or just “Giant Negro.”
Born in Mobile, Ala., Jan. 25, 1897, as Feab S. Williams, he fought under the name George Godfrey after a black heavyweight fighter of the 19th century.
One of Godfrey’s greatest wins was in 1928, when he won a decision over European champion Paulino Uzcudun at Wrigley Field in Los Angeles, taking eight of 10 rounds. Godfrey weighed 236 1/2 pounds; Uzcudun weighed 192 1/2. The Los Angeles Times reported that 40,000 attended the fight, “the largest ever to turn out for a fight in California.”
In 1930, Godfrey notoriously lost a bout in Philadelphia to Primo Carnera by striking a hard blow below the belt in the fifth round. Sportswriter Grantland Rice said: “40,000 customers sat back and howled in derision.” Rice added: “Carnera fell like a grove of California redwoods. He whirled over and crashed to the floor, writhing along the floor of the ring like a cage full of pythons. The blow was either deliberate or Godfrey is the wildest swinger the ring has ever known.”
At 250 pounds, Godfrey “looked like a mountain of coal,” Rice said, while Carnera, at 262 pounds, “was almost perfectly proportioned except for the fact that his varicose veins were larger than the two-inch ropes around the ring.”
Godfrey took the first two rounds, then began to “puff and blow like a school of porpoises,” Rice said. “You could hear him as far away as New York or possibly Boston. It sounded like escaping steam from a dozen or so boiler factories.”
The low blow “ended Godfrey’s career in the American ring,” Rice said, noting that it cost him $5,000. “He will be paid only as far as he fought, $1,000 a round.”
The money for Godfrey and Carnera was delayed pending an investigation as to whether the fight was fixed, Rice said. (See Budd Schulberg’s 1947 novel “The Harder They Fall” or the 1956 Humphrey Bogart film for a fictionalized version of Carnera.) The Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission revoked Godfrey’s license to appear in the state’s boxing rings and cut his $10,000 purse in half.
Godfrey’s last fight was in 1937 at the Olympic Auditorium, losing to Hank Hankinson in a TKO. Godfrey’s seconds threw in the towel 52 seconds into the eighth round after he went down for the count.
Many news stories depicted Godfrey as dying forgotten and broke, but Sentinel columnist Edward Robinson, writing in Abie’s Corner, said that Godfrey “worked every day at a government job and was not the pitiful object that ‘Our Washington Correspondent’ would have you believe.”
Godfrey was 50 at the time of his death.