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Carl Maxey: Fighting the good fight

Maxey was Spokane's first African-American lawyer. His athletic career before he became a lawyer provided hints of just how tenacious he would become.

SPOKANE, Wash. — Carl Maxey had a profound impact on Spokane. 

He was the area’s first African-American lawyer and now has a center named after him as a hub for our African-American community. 

Maxey didn't just break barriers in the courtroom though. He also broke barriers in the athletics realm.

When Carl Maxey arrived at Gonzaga’s Law School in 1947 and eventually joined Gonzaga’s boxing team, he’d already had a very rough life. 

He was adopted by a couple in Spokane, then abandoned, then kicked out of the children’s home he lived in because of the color of his skin, then forced to live in juvenile detention for a year because he had no where else to live. Finally in the late 1930’s he was taken in by Jesuits on the Couer d’Alene reservation. 

That’s where he found a love for sports and lettered in football, basketball, and track at Gonzaga Prep.

Credit: Gonzaga Digital Archives

According to Jim Kershner’s book "Carl Maxey: A Fighting Life," in 1941 he attempted to walk on to Eastern Washington University’s football team, but only four days in, he left due to people in Cheney calling him racist names.

He then went to Gonzaga to play basketball, but left that team due to his own teammates calling him racist names. Shortly there after Maxey, fought in World War II, and when he returned he went to Oregon for his undergrad degree where he ran track. However, his career did not pan out there either in part due to a racist coach.

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After a year and a half there, Maxey returned to Spokane for law school, and that’s where he saw his athletic career flourish in the ring. Boxing was overwhelmingly white in those days. In fact, there's only one photo Gonzaga has of Maxey that includes another black boxer. 

That racial discrimination didn’t stop Maxey from dominating though. He had 37 bouts in a GU uniform from 1948 to 1950. He won 32 of them, including two Pacific Coast Intercollegiate titles. 

Credit: Gonzaga Digital Archives

However, that’s not Maxey’s crowning achievement as a member of the Bulldogs’ boxing team. In 1950, King Carl, as some called him, led Gonzaga’s boxing team to a co-national championship with Idaho. It remains the only national championship Gonzaga has won. Maxey’s final fight was him winning the 175 pound title at the 1950 national championships. He never fought again and began fighting for people in court. 

Credit: Gonzaga Digital Archives

There’s never been a fighter quite like Carl Maxey, both inside and outside of the ring. His athletic career is just a side note in a life that was filled with knocking people on the wrong side of history down.

If you want to see an example of Maxey's work as a lawyer, click on the link below:

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