South Carolina honors former boxing champion Joe Frazier

BEAUFORT, S.C. _ Before he was knocking out opponents in the ring, champion heavyweight boxer Joe Frazier was chopping wood, hauling 55-gallon drums of water and picking cotton with his father in then-segregated Beaufort County.

His beginnings were humble.

His achievements, however, have been anything but ordinary.

On Monday, Smokin' Joe's rise from modest roots to revered world champion continues as Republican Gov. Mark Sanford awards him the Order of the Palmetto. The award is presented by the governor to recipients nominated and approved by a nonpartisan committee.

"Joe's a living legend, a champion of the first kind, and indeed an inspiration to many as he came from humble South Carolina roots and persevered to the very top in his field," Sanford said in a statement Friday. "Coming in first in anything in today's international environment is something to be recognized and respected ... ."

"I came from nothing to something, and that's a good feeling," Frazier, 66, said Friday.

Growing up in Beaufort, Frazier was known as "Billy Boy."

The youngest of Rubin and Dolly Frazier's 11 children, Joe's aspirations to box were born on his family's 10-acre property.

There were no boxing gyms or organized fights in Beaufort that allowed Frazier to turn his dream into reality. Even if there had been, blacks wouldn't have been allowed to use them.

As Frazier put it, "a black man couldn't be a champion in the South."

"I've always loved my hometown despite the bigotry and prejudice I experienced growing up," Frazier said. "We've come a long way. ... I'm just so sorry I couldn't grow and be a champion down there in Beaufort."

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