Joe Gans was the first black American to win a world boxing title. He was the lightweight boxing champion from 1902 to 1904 and 1906 to 1908 -- and many boxing historians claim he actually held the title straight through 1902 to 1908. (The records are not clear.) The 1906 fight in which he defended or regained the title went for 42 rounds!
H.L. Mencken called him "probably the greatest boxer who ever lived"; Jack Johnson (the boxer, not the musician) said Gans moved around the ring "like he's on wheels up there." Madison Square Garden has a statue of him, and there's a painting of him in The National Gallery of Art.
(110-year-old film footage of Gans most controversial fight, in which it's alleged he took a dive, is on YouTube.)
But Gans has largely been forgotten, even in his native Baltimore. Baltimore's City Paper covers Kevin Grace's attempt to rectify the historical injustice a bit:
As the 100th anniversary of Gans' death on Aug. 10, 1910, approaches, some fans and boxing historians are trying to resurrect his story. A Gans biography came out in 2008 and another is set for release in the next year or two. At least one screenplay is looking for a home, and rumors are afoot about a documentary film. But Joe Gans' most vocal booster isn't a writer or a filmmaker or even much of a boxing fan. He works in ground operations for Southwest Airlines at BWI.
And so began his campaign to resurrect the boxer's legacy. For months, Grace made phone calls, filed papers, knocked on doors, and leveraged friendships in the hopes of waking Baltimore--and the world--up to Joe Gans. He sought support from local boxers, City Council members, and community organizations; learned the bureaucratic channels that lead to street namings and city sculptures; and put together a short documentary about Gans to accompany his pitch. He had business cards made for the Friends of Joe Gans, an organization with a membership of one. He dreamed of grand gestures like a commemorative stamp, a statue, historical markers, and an honorary street naming. Grace is matter-of-fact about his unusual dedication. "I don't have a vested interest," he says. "I'm just a concerned citizen, and if I don't do it, nobody will."