story by Kelly Harley photos by Paul Nurnberg
You can say Zeke Wilson has been a fighter all of his life. He was born in 1957 in St. Helena Island, South Carolina. That was the same year President Dwight Eisenhower passed the Civil Rights Act. Zeke, one of eight children, was raised by a single mom and learned at a young age that hard work and perseverance were two of the most important qualities needed to make something of your life. “I spent a lot of time on the farm, doing field work; I got a proper education; and I got into sports,” says Zeke.
Zeke played football for St. Helena Junior High School and says he got really good at it, but he wanted more.
“I remember watching a telecast and Joe Frazier was about to fight Muhammad Ali. I instantly knew I wanted to box,” says Zeke.
He went to work one day and chopped down three trees. He dug two holes and put a tree in each hole. He used the third tree as a cross beam in which he hung a pair of jeans filled with sand on it and started punching. It wasn’t long before people took notice of his skill. “One day a man saw me jogging home from work and stopped me and asked what I was doing,” says Zeke. “The man later became my first boxing manager.”
Zeke, who at the time lived near Parris Island, the training base for enlisted Marines, was able to spar with local Marines. After practicing and honing his skills, at 16 years old he took on his first true opponent during a match in Savannah, Georgia. He was matched with a Golden Glove Champion and State Champion. “I remember the night before the fight, I asked my mom what if I lose,” says Zeke. “She said, ‘As long as you do your best, you can’t lose’.” In 10 seconds, Zeke knocked the guy out cold. That night in the ring propelled his nearly 25-year boxing career.
After graduating high school, Zeke moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He spent time as Joe Frazier’s sparring partner and made his boxing team. He then joined the United States Marine Corps and boxed on the Marine Corps boxing team. After four years of active duty, Zeke was honorably discharged and continued boxing.
Throughout his career, he won the State Golden Glove the State Championship on Hilton Head Island. In 1977, he won the USA Amateur Athletic Union Heavyweight Box-Off at the Riverfront Coliseum in Cincinnati, Ohio, which qualified him for a seat on the US Boxing Team.
When his career in the ring ended, his passion for boxing didn’t. Zeke went on to become a manager, trainer and promoter. It was during his time as a promoter that led him to fight his biggest fight outside of the ring and make history. “I was a fight promoter and I went to Massachusetts to do a boxing event, but different bodies of the state canceled me because of the color of my skin. The state law said anyone who did boxing events had to pay $5,000. I was asked to pay $10,000 and white individuals didn’t have to pay,” says Zeke.
In 2000, Zeke fought a precedent-setting court battle that defined the view of a modern form of racism, that of same-race discrimination. Wilson-vs-McClure was the first same-race discrimination case in the US to reach a Federal court jury. In this case, white Boxing Commissioner William Pender performed direct discriminatory acts, while the black Commission Chairman Wilbert McClure failed to provide Zeke sufficient protection under his authority and cooperated in the unjust cancellation of a series of boxing events, causing financial harm to Zeke. “I didn’t have a lawyer. I did all of my own court proceedings in front of the Chief Justice and the jury. I did it because I believed in myself,” says Zeke. Hard work and perseverance that were instilled in him as a child, paid off. He won his case in front of a jury of his peers. “I hope people learn to stand up for themselves. I had to. Justice is for everyone and it has to be for everyone or you’re just a nobody,” says Zeke. “We are living in a time where people are taking more away from us. If you allow people to take away your rights, then I think you’d be a fool. You have to stand up for what you believe in.”
Zeke’s experiences were the driving force behind his book titled, The Eighth Round. “In the book, I share my life struggles, the valuable life lessons I learned, and how determination helped me through trying circumstances,” says Zeke. “This true story will keep you engaged and cheering for the underdog all the way. It will leave every reader forever changed.” He also wrote a movie script based on the book and it’s with Sony right now. Zeke believes they will move forward with it this year.
Zeke currently travels around the world doing book signings and speaking to kids. Zeke believes the children are our future and he wants to leave a lasting impression on them. He says his appearances and his book are meant to inspire people to take action, especially kids. “You can do anything you put your mind to and kids can be anything they want to be,” says Zeke. “You can’t do dumb things and expect to do great things later. Trouble can put you in places you don’t want to be. If the people don’t stand together, it’s only going to get worse. It’s not going to get any better if we don’t change. I believed in myself and when you believe in yourself, you can accomplish anything.”
To learn more about Zeke’s story and purchase a copy of The Eighth Round, visit www.theeighthround.com.