Luther Rawlings: 1929-2012

By Ted Sares on June 19, 2012
Luther Rawlings: 1929-2012
Luther, a slickster and skilled technician, was the Chicago Golden Gloves champion in 1947

“Having Mr. Rawlings, Mills and Perkins as volunteers was like having Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio coaching for you.”— Mike Joyce, Leo H.S.boxing coach

“He was a 10-round, top-rated fighter…Anyone that fought the 10-round bouts at Marigold, they were a top fighter.”—Ed Kelly, former superintendent of the Chicago Park District

“As good a boxer as he was in the ring, he was an even greater person outside the ring.”—Sean Curtin

This one kind of flew under the radar and not many outside of Chicago noticed it, but Luther Rawlings passed away in March 2012 of complications from Alzheimer’s disease. He was 82 at the time.

Now many Chicagoans will tell you that Lee Roy Murphy was the greatest amateur boxer to come out of Chicago, while others assert that Eddie Perkins or Ernie Terrell were better. However, true aficionados—like Sean Curtin and J.J. Johnson—might say otherwise. In my humble opinion, another great Chicago amateur—one who exemplified class both in and out of the ring—was Luther Rawlings (Lucious Minor Jr). As a pro, he thrilled fans at the old Rainbow Arena on Clark Street and at the Marigold Gardens in the Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago, which hosted two to three 10-round bouts every Monday night. I can remember watching him fight at those venues; in fact, he duked so often at Marigold, he seemed to own the place. Later, he worked on cards at more famous venues like the Chicago Stadium, Madison Square Garden, and the Grand Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles.

Luther, a slickster and skilled technician, was the Chicago Golden Gloves champion at 126 pounds in 1947 and also was the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO ) open champion at a time when the competition was super keen with men like Johnny Bratton, Wray Carter, Curtiss Walker, Nick Ranieri, Harold Dade, and Joey Plummer doing their thing. This was amateur boxing at its best.

Rawlings started out as a tall lightweight at 5-feet-11-inches and grew into a middleweight by the end of his career in 1959. During his professional career, Luther never actualized the success he had as an amateur, but he still managed to impress. His final mark was 38-24-9 (1-1-3 in his last 5). From 1951 to 1956, Rawlings beat some of the world’s top boxers. He went the distance against undefeated welterweight Johnny Saxton and lost a 10-round split decision to lightweight champion Jimmy Carter. More to the point, during his career Luther fought World Champions Joe Brown (L10, D10), Virgil Akins (L10, W10), Johnny Saxton (L10), Wallace “Bud” Smith (D10), and in March of 1952 lost a split decision to World Champion Jimmy Carter in a non-title bout. He also beat top contenders like Danny “Bang Bang” Womber (W8, W10), Art Aragon (W10), Enrique Bolanos (TKO 7), Arthur Persley (KO 3) and Mario Trigo (W10). He lost to Orlando Zulueta (TKO by 5 due to a cut eye), Joe Miceli (L10, TKO by 2), Jimmy Beecham (L8), Rudell Stitch (TKO by 4) and Phil Moyer (L10, D10).

Luther underwent a tragic night in 1949, when he knocked out fellow lightweight Talmadge Bussey (33-18-2) in the ninth round at Arcadia Gardens in Detroit. Bussey, 26, suffered a brain hemorrhage and died the next day. Ironically, Bussey lost to Sonny Boy West in 1949 and then West was killed in a fight against Percy Bassett in 1950. These men fought each other multiple times in an era when the best fought the best.

In 1956 Luther married his wife, Georgia, a former girlfriend of singer Sam Cooke. He fought until 1959 and then, after closing the super popular Luther’s Lounge in Bronzeville and briefly running a clothing boutique, he managed an Aronson Furniture store for 30 years until he retired in the mid-1990s. After retiring, he became a volunteer coach at Leo High School in Chicago and mentored students along with fellow boxing greats Herman Mills and Eddie Perkins.

May God give his soul eternal peace and comfort.

Readers interested in the rich history of Chicago amateur boxing are referred to Chicago Amateur Boxing by Sean Curtin and J.J. Johnson. Arcadia. 2006.

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  1. Roslyn Rawlings 10:18am, 07/10/2018

    Luther Rawlings is (was) my father when he made headlines there was no social media it warms heart that people speak of him so highly. My Dad was not only a great fighter he was a good person who would give the shirt off his back to help anyone . My dad was the gold standard of a husband, father & christian. THANK YOU for remembering him fondley.

  2. George Haberman 02:08pm, 10/07/2015

    I’m looking for info on a boxer named George Brown. Won the the 1956 ny golden gloves although no archives show it. He fought out of Uniondale, ny under direction of Frank A’Hearn.
    I’ve been looking long and hard. I’m starting to run out of gas.
    Help if you can.

  3. Doc 08:42am, 06/05/2014

    I knew Luther in his later years, I worked with him at a furniture store in the early 90s, he really didn’t have to work a job because he had a couple businesses, but did so to stay busy. He was a really cool guy and used to bring his fight tapes for us to watch at work.
    One of the greats!

  4. TEX HASSLER 08:51pm, 06/19/2012

    Luther was an excellent fighter and one that probably the average fan does not know about. Thanks Mr. Sares for bringing Luther back into the light of day for recognition. So many of these fighters from past day would be champions now if they were in their prime and given proper promotion. You can not underestimate the power of a good promoter who is truly behind a fighter.

  5. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo 06:29pm, 06/19/2012

    Ted Sares- When I read this “To look sharp” and “What’ll you have?” started playing over and over in my noggin….probably in yours and Pugknows’ as well!

  6. Bob 06:05pm, 06/19/2012

    Ted:  Thank you for the fine tribute to Luther, as well as a great description of boxing in the Windy City during a golden era. It’s a shame that venues now have corporate names, not such wonderfully nostalgic names like the Rainbow Arena or Marigold Gardens. It must have been heaven to be a young fan in postwar Chicago. Thanks for sharing the great memories.

  7. MRBILL-HARDCORE XXX 05:37pm, 06/19/2012

    I do not know of this man. R.I.P.

  8. The Thresher 04:54pm, 06/19/2012

    He was 7 years older than me but I still saw him fight when I was a kid.

  9. pugknows 03:42pm, 06/19/2012

    I remember him well. He was my age.

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