Monday, February 2, 2009

Rubin Carter: The Sixteenth Round

Yesterday I happened to see Norman Jewison’s 1999 movie, The Hurricane, in which Denzel Washington is cast in the title role. It is based on the book The Sixteenth Round (Viking) by Rubin Carter. I have not read the book, which also inspired the 1983 novel The Devil's Stocking by Nelson Algren. But the movie touched me deeply.

Who is Rubin Carter? A black American middleweight boxer in the 1960s. Not just another one, but a top contender for the title, and a popular one. Normally, boxing championship bouts are limited to fifteen rounds. But Carter, who acquired the nickname ‘Hurricane’ because of his speed and striking power in the ring, had to fight a sixteenth round, with the New Jersey police and the judicial system.

Born in 1937, he was booked on charges of assault while a young boy. There is a view that he was framed. He ran away from the reformatory and joined the army at the age of 17. There too he had a problematic life and was discharged as unfit for service. On return home he was sent to prison for the escape from the reformatory. Then he was back in prison for four years on charges of street muggings, assault and robbery.

It was during imprisonment that he honed his boxing skills, and on release became a prize fighter. He was always the crowd’s favorite. Then, at the height of his career, he was indicted on triple murder charges and sent to prison for life. It would appear that the police and the prosecution were not transparent in the investigation and trial.

A host of celebrities including Bob Dylan, Muhammad Ali, Selwyn Raab, The New York Times reporter, and George Lois, the advertising guru of Madison Avenue took up Carter’s cause. Bob Dylan co-authored the song ‘Hurricane’ and sang it. See

A retrial and appeal to the New Jersey Supreme Court failed to obtain Carter’s release. The boxer resigned to spending the rest of his life in prison. But during that period Carter educated himself, wrote the book, and with his good behavior, earned the respect of most people, except of course the men who were instrumental in sending him to jail.

In the meantime a dedicated group supporting him kept working on the case. When they had enough material, a legally risky approach was made to the Federal Court. The judge ruled that the earlier trials had not been fair and that the prosecution was "based on racism rather than reason and concealment rather than disclosure."

Finally Rubin “Hurricane” Carter walked free. By then, the wrong conviction for murder had taken nearly 22 years of his life!

Now started The Seventeenth Round (that was the title of an article about him in TIME dated Monday, Mar. 29, 1976). Carter relocated to Canada and started Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted (ADWC). He was arrested again once but it was a case of mistaken identity.

In recognition of his work for the convicted innocents, Rubin Carter was awarded Doctorates of Law by York University (Toronto) and Griffith University (Brisbane).

A star-crossed life?

Also see:

Boxing: ‘Tiger’ Nat Terry – a champion and a gentl...

Gunboat Jack, a Bangalore hero of the past


Ajith said...

One of the best performance by Denzel, he is the best!

Abraham Tharakan said...

Yes Ajit, I agree.