Manny and Protégé Hit Man Hearns
Panegyric to a Master Teacher
While trekking up the rock cliffs in the wilds of Northern Manhattan communing with the forces of nature, my senses titillated by the Technicolor foliage of autumn in New York, and my spirit dancing to the myriad birdsongs that had attracted Robert Audubon to this sanctuary, I suddenly found myself thinking of Emanuel Stewart, Motown’s Master Teacher of the Sweet Science, who lately danced and joined the ancestors.
I thought of the fact that he was two years my junior, yet I felt fit as a fiddle as I smoked some high grade wisdom weed and scaled a rock surface to my favorite spot overlooking the great rivers, where I reflected on the meaning of death. Without giving it a thought, the poet in my soul began reciting lines in my mind from Thanatopsis, the epic contemplation of death in William Cullen Bryant’s timeless poem.
That when thy summons come/To join that innumerable caravan / which moves to that mysterious realm/ where each shall take his chamber/ In the silent halls of death/ Thou go not like the quarry slave at night/ scourged to his dungeon/ but sustained and soothed by an unfaltering trust/Approach thy grave like the man who wraps the drapery of his couch about him…and lies down to pleasant dreams.”
I believe that’s how Manny went out…for his was a life well lived. While all life may be equally precious in the sight of God, some lives have been lived in a way that makes them more significant than others. Manny Stewart lived such a life. At first glance the listener of delicate sensibilities may question why a man who taught other men to fight in the brutal sport of boxing is worthy of celebration. On the face of it the question seems fair enough, but only to those who are untutored in the art of pugilism…the sport the late great essayist E. J. Liebling called “The Sweet Science.”
Alas, constraints of time and space restrains me from defending the Sweet Science of pugilism here, but If you require convincing that there is virtue in this manly art you need only read the essays in two anthologies: “The Sweet Science,” by Liebling, and the elegant insughtful essays in Professor Gerald Early’s “The Culture of Bruising.” I shall simply offer the testimony of former World Middle Weight Champion Rocky Graziano: “Boxing takes bad guys and makes good guys out of them. If it wasn’t for boxing I’d be in Sing Sing or San Quentin.”
Lennox the Great!
Manny with Heavy-Weight Champ Lenox Lewis
The Real Deal!
Manny with Evander Holyfield and M.C. Hammer
Hence the true greatness of Manny Stewart lies not in the fact that he trained more great world heavy-weight champions than anyone in history – with a record in title fights of 45 wins, two losses and two draws – or that he trained the great pugilistic artist Thomas “Hit Man Hearns,” the “Motown Cobra,” from an amateur fighter to Five world titles in different weight classes; but in the thousands of young men he rescued from the destructive pitfalls that are ubiquitous in the post-industrial urban wastelands of America…where spunky young men often turn to crime in the Darwinian struggle to survive.
The Motown Cobra!
Tommy “Hit Man” Hearns
Not all of Manny’s students became great, but the discipline and values of fair play they learned under Manny’s tutelage helped them to succeed in other professions, choosing to be law abiding productive citizens over a life of crime.
Although spawned in the Brewster Street Fight Club, from whence the great Joe Louis emerged, in a city that also produced Sugar Ray Robinson – whom the boxing wise guys have crowned “Pound for Pound the “Greatest Boxer of All Time” – Manny never rivaled these great pugilist in the ring, but he was arguably bout for bout, the greatest teacher of the sweet science ever! Alas, we may never see his like again.
The Master at Work
King of the Kronk
With his Star Pupil
Manny and Tommy: A perfect Match
Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
October 26, 2012