But this was not gate. This was not box office. In the theater, satire is what closes on Saturday night. In the ring artistry doesn't even make the undercard. When he was finally given a chance at the title, against Maxim—the champion fought for more than $100,000, whereas Moore settled for $800—he had to take out a $10,000 loan to pay expenses. Shut out of New York—"They were conditioned to busy guys and hitters"—and most of the other big-time sites, he took what the rest of the country and the world would offer.
His incredible memory fails him when it comes to the towns. The boxers and promoters and writers and friends are focused still, but the datelines blur. "Wherever you were, whatever city, there was little Harlems," Moore says. "There was lines a black man didn't cross in them days. You didn't have to know where they were drawn. When you crossed one inadvertently, you could be sure there would be someone there quick to advise you. Heh, heh. But you must understand, when you're a boxer, all the fear goes. After being in the ring, you can stand up anywhere."
And so he kept moving, usually winning, always honest. He was well into his 30's, going on, when he passed through St. Louis, and he heard that his father was in town and was planning to drop by an uncle's house. So Moore hurried over there, and sure enough, along came Tommy Wright ambling down the street, up to the door. Here came his father at last.
After all those years of thinking about that moment, Moore didn't know how to behave. So he turned up his coat collar and scowled, scaring the bejesus out of his father. "Are you Tommy Wright?" he snarled. His father acknowledged that he was. "You know the po-lice is looking for you?" His father gulped, and Moore grilled him about his children. Wright piped up, proudly, that one of his sons was Archie Moore, and Moore growled: "What's Tommy Wright doing with a son named Moore?"
Wright looked to retreat, and, finally, Moore relented and pulled down his collar and told him that he was his son. His father stared into the strange man's eyes, and looked frightened. Moore invited him into the house, and later took his father with him to California. He still wanted to be champion of the world, and he wondered what his father thought about that. After a time, though, Tommy Wright drifted away again.
In the late 1940s Moore tried to part company with his manager, Charley Johnston, and Johnston didn't like that, so he put pressure on promoters to boycott Moore. Archie couldn't even get on a card in his hubs. He was not only black, but also blackballed. "That's the way it was done in them days," he says.
Of course, the tradition of freezing out black challengers had been well established in the 19th century by John L. Sullivan, who refused to face black fighters. After the first black heavyweight champion, Jack Johnson, lost the title to Jess Willard, a white man, in 1915, the protocol became even more firmly fixed. "I never was in favor of mixed bouts," said Jack Kearns, Jack Dempsey's manager in the '20s. "Willard squelched the colored heavyweight division when he squelched Johnson in Cuba. Why resurrect it?"
Other black contenders got the message and did what they had to do to survive. Although the taboo broke down in the '30s with Joe Louis—and John Henry Lewis, Gorilla Jones and Henry Armstrong—promoters were still able to freeze out the less marketable black fighters, like Moore. After all, this was during the Depression, and whites were having a hard time finding work. "The white people were jumping out of windows," Moore recalls. "I don't remember any black people jumping. We were used to depression."
Yet, in spite of the obstacles, many of the old black pugs stayed with it. In all sports the brightest athletes tend to hang on. The smarter athletes perceive aspects that dimmer minds don't consider; the bright ones don't give up their sport until they have tested it, plumbed it and searched in all the dusty corners.
"You're always learning, always still intrigued by it," Moore says. "No matter how long you stay in boxing, the mystery continues to unfold. You never solve the mystery, but you never want to stop trying to."