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Sunday, January 21, 2024

Review of Murder on Federal Street

Murder on Federal Street: Tyrone Everett, the Black Mafia, Fixed Fights, and the Last Golden Age of Philadelphia Boxing
By Sean Nam

Pretty southpaw Tyrone Everett was the talk of South Philadelphia during the 1970s. Seemingly a future champion who vacillated between outboxing his opponents and standing in the pocket and knocking them out, Everett's life was snuffed out in the house of one of his girlfriends, a woman who happened to be the estranged wife of a Black Mafia leader. The girlfriend, Carolyn McKendrick, allegedly pulled the trigger in a jealous rage although some close to the case believe she took the fall for more powerful figures who were actually to blame for the murder.

In Murder on Federal Street, Nam does a masterful job recounting Everett's career. Torn between his reality as a local star and his aspirations of world fame, Everett is a complicated and imperfect man, one who lived a thought-provoking life. The writing is superb and the research intricate and illuminating. The shorter sections on race relations in Philadelphia and the role of the Black Mafia in the city provide excellent context. If there's anything to quibble about this book, it's that those sections could have been woven into Tyrone Everett's story a little tighter.

The truth is, there is virtually nothing to criticize. Nam uses high-minded references and an elevated vocabulary that would make a professor of literature reach for a thesaurus, but impressively manages to create an unpretentious and effortless read. The topics of murder and the mafia lend themselves to sensationalist coverage, but Nam treats them with empathy and humanity.

Throughout his career, Everett had a close relationship with his manager, Frank Gelb, but a frostier one with his promoter Russell Peltz, both of whom are Jewish and act as main characters in the drama. Though not Jewish himself, Everett wore a Star of David on his trunks in several of his fights. Nam concludes he did so to channel the popularity of his rival Bennie Briscoe. Briscoe, who fought in a much higher weight class but often received top billing above Everett, wore a Star of David on his trunks to honor his manager. Yiddish words are not only sprinkled into the narrative, but thankfully are used appropriately. Nam even scores a rare interview with former world champion Mike Rossman.

Murder on Federal Street is a fascinating story and a fantastically written book. It's highly recommended reading for any boxing fan, particularly those interested the sport's history in Philadelphia or during the 1970s.

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