On a day like today, in 1952, Zach Clayton became the first black referee in a heavyweight world championship fight.
Clayton was the third man on the ring in the National Boxing Association (now WBA) title dispute between Jersey Joe Walcott and Ezzard Charles, with Walcott winning. The bout took place at Philadelphia’s Municipal Stadium and was the fourth clash of the two fighters, in a rivalry that ended with two victories per side.
Before becoming a referee, Clayton had been a commissioner of the Pennsylvania Athletic Commission. He was born in Virginia in 1917 and died in 1997, at the age of 80. Besides being the first black referee in a heavyweight bout, he was also the first African-American to get a referee’s license in 1949.
He had a good career as a referee and was in several major fights. His performance in “Rumble in the Jungle” in 1974 when Muhammad Ali won that great fight vs. George Foreman in Kinshasa, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo).
He was a dedicated to sports and even played in the black baseball leagues, while he excelled as a star in basketball with the Harlem Globetrotters.