Monday, October 12, 2015

George "Cyclone" Williams: Elmira's Sensational Battler

By Kelli Huggins, Education Coordinator

George “Cyclone” Williams was a local African-American boxer during the 1910s and 1920s, who billed himself as "Elmira's Sensational Battler." He earned the nickname “Cyclone” for his speed and tenacity. A lightweight, The Buffalo Courier called him "a slam-bang fighter, who fights every minute." The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle said he "has a bag full of tricks." The Elmira Herald called him "a pocket edition of Jack Dempsey."
Williams' letterhead
During this era, often white boxers wouldn’t fight black boxers.  In a 1912 fight in Buffalo,  no fighters would go against him. A report stated, “Nobody wanted anything of Williams’ game. Some wouldn't make a match because they drew the color line. Hitherto they had been fighting all shades and all kinds. Others developed sore hands, bum arms, boils, and anything else that sounded good.”  Fans showed their support of Williams after he was disqualified from a 1919 fight in Waverly for allegedly hitting below the belt.  Williams had out boxed his opponent the entire match.  A report said of Williams, “Williams has been a conspicuous figure in the boxing game here and throughout this vicinity for many years. During that time he has earned an unusual reputation as a sportsmanlike fighter. His ring tactics and conduct have always gained him the popularity and confidence of the boxing public.”
Cyclone boxed for 20 years. When he retired, he figured that he’d been through 20 years of fighting with fewer injuries than most fighters, so he owed God for protection.  A group of his Elmira friends got money together to send him to Elmira Free Academy, Cook Academy, and then Berkeley Divinity School in New Haven, CT.  He was a pastor in several cities and towns, including Elmira, Corning, and Waverly.
He picked up other jobs to support himself while he was a pastor: he was a theater janitor, owned a valet service, and was a steam bath operator and masseur. He briefly ran a newsstand and shoe shine under the Erie Viaduct, about which he joked he ran a business with a million dollar overhead.
Later in life Cyclone reflected on his boxing career and thought that he’d have been world champion if he was white.  He claimed that politics kept him out of the matches that he should have been in.  He also hated modern boxing because it wasn’t aggressive enough.   He said unlike modern fighters, he always fought until the bell rang.

He died of an apparent heart attack in 1958 at age 70.  In 2011, author Andrea Davis Pinkney, Williams’ great-granddaughter, wrote the children’s book, Bird in a Box, a fictional story of a black boxer, inspired in part by Williams.


  1. I wonder if there were other athletes who had similar stories of not being recognized because of race, color, creed or religion from our area ?
    And hope that someday each of these people get the proper recognition that they deserve

    1. Amen....he was my grandfather that I never met

    2. He also had the Million Dollar Overhead on Water Street bridge shoe shining!!

    3. He also had the Million Dollar Overhead on Water Street bridge shoe shining!!

    4. Amen....he was my grandfather that I never met