Students in Roy Shoulder’s sophomore Sociology class had a simple assignment for Black History Month: research an individual who made an impact in the African-American community. Students were tasked with creating a poster and then had to give a presentation to help make that person “come to life.”
For St. Peter’s student Rakayla Smith, her choice was easy – Mansfield boxing legend “Prince” Charles Williams. He also happens to be Rakayla’s uncle. Prince Williams was born in Columbus, Miss., then moved to Mansfield at age 7, where his boxing career began. He went 34-2 in his amateur career, including runner-up in the 1977 Junior Olympics. He made his pro debut in 1978 and went on to have a very successful career, going 37-7-3 with 28 knockouts.
“When Miss Smith approached me about doing her project on Charles Williams, I thought it was a great idea. Most students pick someone that is a prominent figure in history. However, it is important for our students to recognize that individuals from the Black community here in Mansfield can go on to do great things.” Shoulders said. “Prince Charles is undoubtedly one of the best athletes to come out of Mansfield, specifically the North End. To have him come and speak to the class was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”
“Uncle Charles has been a great role model for many. I think his story is very inspiring,” Miss Smith said. “I thought it would be a good opportunity for my classmates to hear from him and how hard he worked to chase his dreams.”
Williams told students about his boxing career, how he went pro at age 16, and how he fought to become the International Boxing Federation light heavyweight champion in 1987, a title he held until 1993. He told the class how much effort it took to focus on a career in boxing.
“The main thing, the focus, is that you know what you want to do in life. Do you know what your goal is? It doesn’t have to be boxing, it doesn’t have to be basketball, and it doesn’t have to be sports.” Williams said. “Whatever you set your goal to be, you have to do your best. “Don’t look for it to come overnight. It took me 13 years before I got a break and could become champ. You have to work your way up … and it doesn’t come easy.”
Students asked several questions about his career, including his daily training regiment, his most challenging fights, what led him to decide to retire, and whether he encountered prejudice or discrimination during his career.
“Yes, I did, especially when I went overseas to fight,” Williams said. “I went over to Germany to fight, and I couldn’t even train. We were not allowed to leave the hotel. I was told before the match that I was not going to win. I was in a no-win situation. … I do believe that today, we (African-Americans) get the same opportunities that everyone else got. We’ve come a long way.”
He told students that success depends more on how a person carries themselves and how much their drive is to be successful. Williams also gave credit to having God in his life.
“I could not have done any of that without God in my life. He gave me all of the strength to do what I did,” he said. “I can’t take the glory, and I have to give everything to him. If it wasn’t for him, I could not have done it.”
Williams now lives in Columbus with his wife, and they have two children and several grandchildren. He is a deacon in his church and still works helps to train young boxers. In 2021, the City of Mansfield dedicated a portion of Harker Avenue as the honorary Prince Charles Williams Street.