Kid Brown’s saga comes to a conclusion

The Secret 9, with Eddie Brown, circled, top row, third player from left.

Editor’s note: With this post, we come to the conclusion of the saga of Eddie “Kid” Brown, one of the members of the Secret 9, Satchmo’s semipro baseball team in New Orleans during the early 1930s, and a stellar pro boxer in and around the Big Easy for a half-dozen years.

For the earlier installments of the Brown story, go here, here and here. Other posts and articles about the Secret 9 in general can be found here, here and here.

Without further ado, the tale of Kid Brown wraps up …

By late July 1936, Eddie Brown Sr. was running out of gas after a successful pro career as a clever, resilient lightweight and welterweight in New Orleans and around the South. Matched against youngster Edgar Theard, the newbie — who only had one more pro fight after this one — handled Brown in a preliminary on a big draw card.

Here’s how Pete Baird (who apparently had a fascination with facial hair) of the Times-Picayune described the final pro fight of Eddie Brown Sr.’s career:

“The battle of moustaches wound up in the tank when Eddie Brown went down smiling and out smiling in the first round before the taps of Edgar Theard. It must be said, though, that Edgar was plenty vicious when he came out, seeing Brown’s moustache was more virile than his own. He tore right in with more vehemence than was necessary.”

Weirdly enough, Louisiana Weekly sports editor Cliff Thomas also was hypnotized by the whole moustache deal, zeroing in on said furry features in his column of Aug. 1, 1936:

“The two fellows with the moustaches who fought one of the prelims! I wonder if its [sic] really a fact that the reason Theard tried to murder Brown in the first round was because he was jealous of Brown’s moustache being longer that his?”

Thomas billed Theard as “an exceptionally rough young man,” echoing Baird’s assessment of Edgar’s merciless onslaught. Lip hair aside, Thomas gave a tip of his hat to Eddie, albeit as part of the scribe’s assessment of a new fighter on the scene.

“Young P.G. Carson,” Thomas penned, “to your scribe’s opinion the classiest boxer the Crescent City has turned out since the reign of the clever Eddie ‘Kid’ Brown, easily beat ‘Ringer’ Thompson, Baton Rouge lightweight pride, in a bout at the ‘Red Stick’ City last week.”

As fate would have it, Thomas’ compliment ended up being terse eulogy for Brown’s professional boxing career — at the age of just 26, Kid appears to have fought his last pro bout. Little else was said about his graceful but overlooked walk toward the sunset.

(Interestingly, Eddie Brown’s last pro fight also attracted one of the largest audiences of his career — 6,500 fans flooded Heinemann Park, home of the New Orleans Pelicans, for a gate of nearly $3,600, or nearly $66,000 in today’s dollars, for a huge slate of bouts.)

Back to present day, some of Eddie Brown Jr.’s most vibrant memories of his father are from Senior’s days in the ring, especially from ringside, where he soaked up the good, bad and ugly of the sport.

“[It was] amazing, and sometimes bloody and sweaty, but more amazing,” he told me.

After Kid retired from his boxing career he stayed close to the fight business by working as a judge and referee on countless bouts, in addition to coaching youngsters. 

“He also was an official for many local fights in the ’50s and ’60’s,” Eddie Jr. said. “There were fights on Monday and Saturday nights when I was a kid, and I saw hundreds of them and sat ringside.”

Through his father, Eddie brushed up against fistic royalty on a routine basis.

“I saw and met Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, Tony Licata, Jimmy Mince, Percy Pugh and Jerry Pelligrini, who’s a barber about six blocks from my house,” he said.

Eddie Jr., while not as successful and prominent as his father, carried on the family’s athletic heritage.

“I was pretty good at football and basketball, but I spent a lot of time running in 10k and 5k races,” he said.

An advertisement in the Louisiana Weekly in 1932. Note that Weekly sports editor Eddie Burbridge is Brown’s manager.

After Brown Sr. retired from fighting himself, he worked feverishly for more than 30 years as a bout referee and judge, often stationing himself ringside for many of the top regional fights held in New Orleans and winning a reputation as a fair, decisive and insightful official. In 1946, for example, the famed Pittsburgh Courier newspaper ran a short dispatch from New Orleans covering the Candy McDanielsAl Gomez fight, in which the publication stated that Brown “used flawless judgment in stopping the fight” in declaring a technical knockout victory for Gomez.

Pittsburgh Courier, Jan. 19, 1946

In addition, as mentioned a few times earlier, he coached youngsters in the sweet science and served as a mentor for dozens of kids and young adults in the city. Eddie Brown Jr. said his father coached “all around the city” — at the New Orleans Police Department, Loyola University, and the Dryades YMCA. Eddie noted that his father also tutored folks in fencing. 

The Dryades YMCA today.

Eddie Sr. also took part in community events, benefits and fundraisers for various causes; in 1944, he stepped back in the ring (albeit briefly) for a match on a huge slate of exhibitions and “old timers” bouts for the benefit of the WWII war loan drive. (Admission to the fistic bonanza was the purchase of war stamps and bonds.)

The July 1, 1944, issue of the Louisiana Weekly reported that “outstanding pugilists from bygone years, boxing promoters, sportsmen, businessmen and entertainers are appearing in a gigantic war benefit boxing program at the Coliseum Arena” and called it a “novel method of supporting the war effort …”

“Bringing once again into the magic square circle — into the public spotlight — many of the city’s most [word missing] prizefighters of past years,” including Brown, Tommy Flores, Chocolate Bon Bon and Battling Ferdie, the Weekly reported. In all, 14 bouts were carded for the event.

Brown took part in other community charity events as well; in June 1932, he was part of an all-star card at St. Raymond Church’s baseball park, a boxing “stag” that served as a fundraising for the church. (Throughout its existence, St. Raymond’s ballfield hosted countless pro, semipro, club, college and high school baseball games, featuring classic local black squads like the Algiers Giants, the Melpomene White Sox, the Crescent Stars and St. Raymond’s own teams. In fact, none other than Louis Armstrong attended a Secret 9 game at the ballpark in 1931. The field was located at the intersection of Milton Street and Paris Avenue, a few blocks west of Dillard University and a little ways northeast of the fairgrounds race course. St. Raymond parish eventually merged with St. Leo.)

Kid Brown also dipped his toes in the managerial and promotional fields, handling younger fighters, and setting up and promoting bouts in his own right. In 1957, Brown was reported as managing Ray Portilla, a native of Mexico who eventually was based in New York.

New Orleans States sports columnist Harry Martinez wrote that Portilla’s camp was seeking a match with New Orleanian Ralph Dupas, who would later go on to win the world light middleweight crown in 1963. However, Martinez’ piece also notes that Brown was associated with Gene Fullmer, a Utah native who snatched the world middleweight title in 1957 from none other than Sugar Ray Robinson, considered by many to be the greatest boxer in American history, if not the world as well.

Kid Brown was likewise characteristically involved in New Orleans boxing tournaments and competitions, such as the Crescent City Amateur Boxing Association elimination tournament. In 1947, for example, Brown arranged and promoter several rounds of the CCABA tourney, first at St. Bernard Arena, then at the famed Coliseum Arena. 

Arthur Schott, founder of the New Orleans SABR committee and family owner of Schott and Company meat packing, where Eddie Brown Sr., working after the latter’s retirement from boxing. (Photo courtesy Derby Gisclair.)

Outside of his athletic pursuits, Eddie Brown Sr. worked at Schott and Company meat-packing business on Poydras Street. This fact is particularly interesting because a member of the company’s third generation, Arthur Schott, served as Louisiana’s official baseball historian for more than 40 years. SABR’s New Orleans chapter, of which I’m a member, is named the Schott-Pelican Chapter his honor. The chapter’s current president is none other than Derby Gisclair, whom I’ve already quoted in this post (in addition to local baseball, he’s also the authority on boxing history in NOLA). Derby has been a good friend to me and has enthusiastically supported and encouraged me in the pursuit of the Secret 9 mystery, for which I offer him many and continued thanks.

Official government documents state that Eddie Brown Sr. worked at a variety of jobs; the 1930 federal Census reported him as a porter at a lunch stand, while the 1940 Census lists him as a painter at a private address. His World War II draft card states that he was employed at Southern Bell Telephone Co. on Poydras Street.

Eddie Brown’s WWII draft card

Over time, Brown and his family lived at various locales in the city, including North Roman, Gasquet Street, North Robertson and Abadie streets. They spent much of their lives on the edge of the historic Treme neighborhood.

Eddie “Kid” Brown Sr. died in May 1976 at the age of 76. While much of New Orleans — especially the white population — wasn’t aware that an athletic legend had passed from their ranks. However, a few did recognize the final bell in the life of Kid Brown, including then-Times-Picayune sports editor Bob Roesler, who, unlike many Crescent City scribes before him, was extremely progressive in terms of face relations, and he did much to bring to readers black sports history, including boxing, and, even more so, the Negro Leagues.

In the May 26, 1976, issue of the T-P, Roesler noted Brown’s contributions to the city and the community:

“The boxing community lost a gem of a guy when Eddie “Kid” Brown died Sunday. A pretty good guy with the gloves in his younger days, Eddie spent the past 10 years working with kids in the Police gym … as the fight mob would say, ‘for free.’”

It’s significant to note that while this post and connected research and interviews sprang from the effort to find more information about a baseball team — the Secret 9 — and while Eddie Brown did play baseball at some point for at least one semipro club, I was unable to find much information at all about Brown’s further exploits on the baseball diamond.

Now, that doesn’t mean there’s not anything to find or that Eddie Brown’s stint with Satchmo’s team was the sum total of Brown’s hardball career. But I just haven’t been able to comb the archives of the Louisiana Weekly and other files and collections pertinent to this project. Rest assured that if more details or historical finds do emerge that I’ll post them here.

I’ll also continue to dig into the history and details of the famed/mysterious Secret 9, including attempting to ID the fellows in the photo, and if anything is uncovered, you’ll find the report here!

However, for my next post about the club, I’ll look at the origins of the famous photo itself and chronicle a New Orleans artist who vanished after leaping into the Mississippi River …

A few notes on events, people and places in Eddie “Kid” Brown’s athletic career …

Times-Picayune, Oct. 14, 1979

  • Lou Ovalasiti promoted many of Eddie Brown’s fights and served as a boxing kingpin and promoter supreme for decades in the mid-20th century in the Crescent City. Ovalasiti hyped and touted many black boxers and bouts over the years, including Eddie Kid Brown and his opponents. In fact, according to an obituary written by the Times-Picayune upon Ovalasiti’s death in October 1979, the Italian immigrant and retired businessman was “the first promoter to bring black boxers to New Orleans at the Coliseum Arena.”
  • Most of Brown’s bouts at Westside Arena — which was located on the westbank of the metro New Orleans area, across the river the main bulk of the city — were arranged and promoted by one Anthony “Tony” Tripani (sometimes spelled as Trapani). Tripani’s heavy involvement in the area boxing community is well documented in contemporaneous media coverage, and BoxRec.com lists five official events sponsored by Tripani, all at Westside Arena, between 1932-34.

But there’s more to the picture — it seems that Tripani, in addition to being a boxing promoter, was something of a crime kingpin in the city as well. News reports from the time state that Tripani operated a “soft drink establishment” or a “soft drink stand” in the McDonoghville neighborhood on the westbank, but that legitimate business appears to have been a front for all sorts of illegal doings on Tripani’s part, including bootlegging, bookmaking, illicit gambling and lottery violations.

In the 1950s, he became ensnared in investigations of organized crime. In early April 1952, he was one of 13 suspects arrested in a wide-ranging probe into gambling in New Orleans. The investigation soon widened to include police officers’ income, hinting at possible kickback schemes or other illicit payments from alleged mobsters, as well as bribery of public officials; Tripani, having been nabbed for, in one instance, illegal gambling, and in another bust, public bribery, was one of the witnesses called to appear before various grand juries.

Tripani died in 1964.

  • Another of Kid Brown’s foes worth mentioning is Darcey “K.O.” White, another popular, well traveled fighter who, like Wesley Farrell, brought a bunch of attention to the New Orleans African-American boxing scene. White, who was roughly the same age as Brown, racked up 69 professional bouts between 1930-1943, posting an overall 45-22-2 mark, including 16 victories by knockout. White was based in New Bedford, Mass., and spent the first several years of his career fighting in New England before heading Southern to spend about two-thirds of his pro tenure in and around the Crescent City. At the tail end of his career, White had earned enough national cred and renown that he boxed against several white fighters as well.

White, a welterweight, split a pair of fights with Eddie Brown; he knocked Brown out Feb. 2, 1934, at the Coliseum Arena, but Kid gained revenge just under a year later by besting White on points in a 12-rounder at Lincoln Park on Jan. 11, 1935.

The daily newspapers gave, at least by their meager standards, decent attention to Eddie’s Jan. 11, 1935, encounter with K.O. White. Reported the New Orleans States newspaper:

“Brown fought a smart battle, letting his opponent come to him and counter-punching to pile up his lead, which was a very substantial one. Only in the 12th stanza did White look like the ‘killer’ he has often been called. In that round, evidently realizing that he was far behind, White tried desperately to get over a knockout punch, but Brown was ready for this attack and tied his man up to keep out of danger.”

(Unfortunately, a frigid night in the Big Easy apparently kept fans away from the outdoor venue at Lincoln Park, resulting in a miniscule crown and gate receipts of only $192. By comparison, one night later, none other than Joe Louis drew about 5,000 folks to Pittsburgh for his victory over a German, Hans Birkie. The take for the bout — which was Louis’ 14th win in a row and which came more than two years before the Brown Bomber won the world heavyweight crown for the first time — was a whopping $7,500.)

  • The Coliseum Arena was arguably New Orleans’ premier indoor sports and entertainment facility for nearly 40 years. Located between the Tulane-Gravier and Treme neighborhoods, just a few blocks northwest of where I-10 runs now.

The Coliseum Arena

Opened in 1922 and closed in 1960, the arena housed 8,000 seats but could pack in a total of 8,500 spectators, and a slew of famous pugilists appeared in the facility over the years, including African-American immortals like Joe Louis and Sugar Ray Robinson, and local fistic heroes like Willie Pastrano and Ralph Dupas. In addition to the fistic goings-on, concerts, speeches and other events took place, including, most memorably, an appearance by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1957. (Today the site houses a metal-supply company.)

  • Lincoln Park, meanwhile, appears to have been some sort of amusement park facility in the Gert Town neighborhood, about a half-mile down Carrollton Avenue toward the river from Heinemann/Pelican Stadium; it included a skating rink, a ballpark and other sporting and entertainment facilities. Built just after the turn of the century, Lincoln was designed to provide recreational and spectatorial opportunities for the city’s African-American population, thereby obliquely reinforcing the existing Jim Crow system. Lincoln Park was used from 1902-1930, which doesn’t jibe with the heavy post-1930 activity the facility had, as reported on BoxRec.
  • The Westside Arena, where Tony Tripani sponsored numerous bouts featuring African-American fighters, including a bunch with Ed Brown, was located on the westbank of New Orleans in the now largely residential and commercial neighborhood of McDonoghville. It was owned by the Westbank Athletic Club; Derby told me that the 2,500-capacity venue “was the only boxing facility on the Westbank.” It opened in December 1931, and Kid Brown enjoyed his first Westside engagement a month later, besting Fast Black by points. According to BoxRec.com, 18 events were staged at the Westside Arena between 1932 and 1939.
  • Eddie Brown managed to land some national exposure at various points in his career. For example, he garnered regional and national ink in February 1935, when a lineup of pugilists from Tampa, Fla., arrived in New Orleans for a slate of matches against NOLA locals, including Eddie Brown, who drew a clash against Speedy Red.

The bout was covered, via correspondent, by the Atlanta Daily World, the largest black newspaper in the South, which trumpeted Red as the lightweight king of Florida, asserting the Tampa fighter came to NOLA to annex this state’s crown as well. 

Given Red’s ballyhooed prowess, after the fight was over, Daily World sports editor Sanders S. Mason opined that his state’s ambassador “was robbed of the judges[‘] nod in his 12 round battle with” Brown. Mason cited reports from New Orleans’ Lincoln Park that the see-saw battle was given to Brown but “should have been called a draw.” Mason reported that the “attendance was small but every bout was very exciting, the gate receipts was [sic] $203,” or about $3,750 in today’s money.

  • Finally, I come to the San Jacinto Club, which, I am quite embarrassed to admit, was completely new to me when I was researching and writing this post. I say embarrassed because of how important the organization was to the New Orleans black community — so important that I really should have learned about it much earlier than this, because by all accounts the San Jacinto was amazing.

The San Jacinto Social and Pleasure Club seems to have combined the community awareness and social uplift of the Knights of Pythias, the cultural and festive atmosphere of the famed Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club, and the athletic prowess and activity of Big Easy athletic clubs like the Olympic. As such, I really can’t do the club justice in this post — it really deserves its own blog post, or book chapter, or entire book.

The boxing ring at the San Jacinto Club.

So it shall. I’m working on a separate blog post about the San Jacinto Club that will try to focus on the organization’s activities in the baseball world. Hopefully that will come soon, so keep checking back!

For now, I’ll leave you with a taste of the type of wild, wooly popularity and importance held by the San Jacinto, in the form of excerpts from then-Louisiana Weekly sports editor Eddie Burbridge following one of Eddie “Kid” Brown’s fights there. The passages are a bit long, but they’re also somewhat entrancing.

We’ll start with Burbridge’s prose from the May 3, 1930, issue of the paper:

“A fight fan, obviously a lover of the ear-puffing racket, writes us concerning the verdict ‘donating’ (as he puts it), Jackie Moore, after taking a sound thrashing from Eddie ‘Kid’ Brown, Sunday evening at the San Jacinto Club Arena.

“The fan, E. Abraham, thinks that a competent room of judges should be selected because the present trio, after their ‘wild’ decision accompanying Sunday’s fiasco, clearly showed that they don’t know the difference between the winner of a boxing bout and an acrobat flop artist. He furthered explained that he had no particular interest in either of the combatants, but he does want to see a verdict go the right way. ‘Brown was in front by a country mile,’ he said, ‘and everybody in the arena knew it, and it was like asking everyone to contribute a five dollar bill to the Association for the Care of Blind Cats, when the judges’ vote was taken and Jackie Moore’s right arm was hoisted, proclaiming him the winner.’

“‘If the judges are accountable to distinguish between the beater and the beaten, (and it is clear as a crystal that they don’t), then they should get out of those comfortable chairs and turn them over to a group that knows its battles and which way they should go. Such farces are intolerable, Abraham states further, and it serves to nauseate one after he witnessed a very pleasant scrap. Such dumb practices must be remedied for the good of the game.”

A week later, Burbridge continued, and hopefully ended, the gathering storm of controversy:

Looks like E. Abraham touched a pretty soft spot when he ridiculed the judges of the San Jacinto Club Arena in his scorcher that strutted down the double column last week.

Earl Raby for one, one of the decision renderers of the downtown battle-house, is on Mr. Abraham’s neck and reports reached this den that [?] name-sake is not alone in frowning down upon the ‘Dissatisfied Fan’ which means that Abraham is not so far up in the good graces of the ridiculed.

Both forces (if such nom de plume is permissable [sic] in this case), dropped articles telling the other just where to get off. Both found their way to the basket, however, because we feel that too much friction will be produced on this one sheet if all that fire was splattered thereon. Why, the reader wouldn’t be able to read for the smoke. So we’ll take the chance of dropping a little suggestion on the subject.

It seems to us that a lot of good could be done if Messrs. Abraham, Clairville, Fraise, Raby and the other judges and powers that be of the arena where to stick their feet under some table in a group and discuss this decision affair frankly. Every one, from our knowledge of them, seems sincere enough about what the other fellow thinks, and with this in view, we’re willing to wager that after a half-hour’s DISCUSSION [itals in original] (and we do mean discussion) fan and judge would understand each other perfectly, and would have made the entire racket pleasing to all concerned. Unpopular decisions are common everywhere the glove slamming affair is legal (or illegal, too, for that matter), and all that can be realized from the present method of thrashing the affair is a mere newspaper controversy. Controversies are but controversies, is true enough, but one around a table will bring much better results. Give it a trial, gentlemen, and you’ll find it still holds good … and will help Old John Q. Publik.

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