Little Known Black History Fact: Rubin “Hurricane” Carter

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    Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, a former boxer and champion of the wrongfully convicted, died Sunday after a bout with prostate cancer. He was 76. Carter was born May 6, 1937 in Clifton, N.J. At age 14, he was sent to a reform school for assault. Carter escaped the school, joined the Army, and began boxing for the military branch.

    The Army discharged Carter after two years. When he returned home, he was arrested for escaping from the Jamesburg Home for Boys. Prison became a familiar place for Carter. After pleading guilty to charges including muggings and assaults, Carter spent several years in prison until his release in 1961.

    Freedom led Carter to pursue boxing seriously, and he was seen as a prospect. Just 5’8, Carter made short work of his bigger foes with his ferocity, thus earning the nickname “Hurricane.” After losing his only title shot in 1964, Carter’s boxing career faltered.

    Carter’s life was upended once more after he and friend John Artis were fingered for the triple homicide of a bartender and two white patrons of the Lafayette Bar and Grill in Paterson, N.J. No witnesses saw Carter or Artis at the scene of the crime, so they were not initially charged. However, a jury in 1967 would convict the two on testimony provided by a pair of criminals.

    The ruling was overturned but Carter convicted again in 1976, a year after celebrated singer Bob Dylan released his “Hurricane” song and supported Carter’s fight to prove his innocence. Dylan was inspired by Carter’s 1975 biography The Sixteenth Round which helped shape the background for the 1999 Denzel Washington film, The Hurricane.

    After a long appeals battle, Carter’s attorneys were able to get the case thrown out. Carter walked out of prison in November 1985 at the age of 48.

    Three years later, a Passaic County prosecutor filed a motion to dismiss the charges altogether. Carter, who conceded in several interviews that he was not perfect, eventually became the executive director of Canadian non-profit Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted. He led the organization from 1993 to 2005.

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