Rubin Hurricane Carter Biography

A brief biography of Rubin

If you saw the movie "The Hurricane" with Denzel Washington, you may have become intrigued with the finding out who the real Rubin "Hurricane" Carter was. Upon further investigation, it is apparent that the real Mr. Carter was not portrayed in true form in the movie. Whether you believe he was innocent or guilty of the crime he was accused of committing, the story of the real Mr. Carter is decidedly more fascinating than of the Hurricane portrayed in the movie.

In 1967, Mr. Carter, a middle weight, world-class professional boxer, was found guilty of committing a triple murder at the Lafayette Grill in Paterson. A jury handed down a triple-life sentence. John Artis, his alleged accomplice, was also found guilty.

In the process, the Hurricane lost 20 years of his life, his marriage, the chance to watch his children grow up and an eye which was lost during a botched surgery he underwent in prison. He also lost his boxing career, forever in the prime moneymaking years of his life.

In 1986, Mr. Carter and Mr. Artis were exonerated of the crimes by Federal Court Judge H. Lee Sarokin. He ruled that the state withheld evidence and violated the Constitution in its overzealous attempt to nab the killers.

In 1966, the Hurricane was a legend. Inside the ring, he breathed fear into his opponents and was mounting a challenge for the welterweight crown. At the time, Mr. Carter was pulling in a salary of about $100,000 annually and was enjoying his life of luxury. He wore fancy suits, expensive jewelry, and shaved his head. His look was topped off with a goatee, a striking style that was not common for most African Americans at the time. Most black men still wore Afros.

In 1966, racial tensions were about to burst across the nation. While Martin Luther King Jr. was garnering white and black support for nonviolent resistance, Mr. Carter believed that any means, even violence, was necessary to attain equality, like his soon-to-be slain hero, Malcolm X.

Mr. Carter was sent to reformatory prison when he was a boy for stealing a man's watch and hitting him with a bottle. After a few years, Mr. Carter escaped the prison, by, ironically, entering into the Army to serve in the paratrooper division.

It was in the Army that Mr. Carter learned his basic skills: reading, writing, speaking and boxing. Prior to entering the service, Mr. Carter could not even read and had a severe stuttering problem. Instead of fixing his impediment, he kept to himself and did not care much for school.

This all changed in the Army. He did not have many friends, until a fellow black cadet took him under his wing. He convinced Mr. Carter to take classes at a nearby school. It was at that time Mr. Carter was introduced to his future passion and livelihood, boxing. He was a natural.

His short and muscular build, along with his ability to intimidate his opponent, soon won him fame in the Army. He bunked with other boxers, ran 22 miles each morning and basked in his newfound virulence.

However, a short homecoming to Paterson proved inhospitable when the authorities spotted him and put him back behind bars because he owed them time for fleeing from the youth reformatory. Once again in a prison uniform, Mr. Carter vowed never to come back. Once released, he would be a boxer.

That was the road that Mr. Carter would take. Shortly after embarking on his professional boxing career he began making waves in the boxing world, losing the middleweight championship in a controversial 14-round decision versus hometown Philadelphia favorite Joey Giardella.

Shortly after returning to Paterson, Mr. Carter married a Paterson woman named Tee. He would later have a daughter and son with her. But, Mr. Carter was never the model family man. Most nights, he could be found prowling the streets for pretty ladies, booze and good music. Unlike the movie's depiction of him as poster child for clean living, Mr. Carter had a severe drinking problem and a tremendous affinity for Russian vodka. He went to great lengths to conceal his drinking habit, and would often drink in his car, never ordering more than one drink at a bar.

One side of Mr. Carter was aptly titled the Hurricane. He had a quick temper and was never shy about using his fists.

Despite his penchant for being a troublemaker, even after his conviction, those who knew Mr. Carter could never believe that he would use a gun to kill someone. The Hurricane used his fists; his fist was his only line of defense. Anything else would have been unmanly.

In the eyes of the Paterson authorities, the Hurricane was seen as a violent black man filled with vengeance and ready to explode, to which prosecutors argued at length when trying the case.

Mr. Carter threw his wealth and fame in the face of white Paterson, during a time when white's feared the rising status and confidence of blacks, the civil rights movement and most of all, equality.

On the night of June 16, 1966, Mr. Carter ate dinner with his family, dressed in his usual swank attire and headed out for a business meeting with his manager. They were to discuss his upcoming match in Argentina. Later that night, he and a few of his buddies were carousing at a local black club called the "Nite Spot." At 2 a.m. the bar closed, with Mr. Carter penniless, and still without a date for the evening.

Mr. Carter, age 29, Mr. Artis, a 19-year-old high school football and track star, and another man, not depicted in the movie, John "Bucks" Royster, embarked in Hurricane's white Dodge Polara to his home in order to get some cash.

At the same time, the Lafayette bar murders were committed and the police were radioed that a "white car with two Negroes" had been spotted leaving the bar. The report announced that two of the victims were dead and another two were dying. All the victims were white, and one was a woman.

When a police officer stopped the three men in Mr. Carter's car, he let them go, telling them they were cleared. In the interim, Mr. Carter stopped home, retrieved some money, dropped off Mr. Royster and was back on the town with Mr. Artis. Minutes later they were stopped again. This time, for good. Mr. Carter and Mr. Artis were then escorted by police to St. Joseph's Hospital, where one of the victims, William Marins, lay bleeding. With only one good eye, he told the police he could identify the guilty man. The police asked if Mr. Carter was the shooter and Mr. Marins shook his head no.

Sixteen hours after being cleared by Mr. Marins testimony in the hospital, Mr. Carter and Mr. Artis were released from jail. Both men had taken a lie detector test and passed it. The police had found no weapons in the car. They had no evidence.

With his name cleared, Mr. Carter went to Argentina to fight his final boxing match. He thought about staying there, but, instead, returned to Paterson only to be arrested on Oct. 14, 1966 and charged with the Lafayette bar murders, due to a tip received by the police from a mystery witness.

In April of 1967, an all-white jury was selected to hear the case and found the two men guilty, despite contradictory evidence. Mr. Carter and Mr. Artis were sent to Trenton State Prison in 1967, not to be exonerated until 1986.

In 1976, a new trial was conducted, which brought recantations of the witnesses, essentially exonerating the two men to light. This new evidence led to the two men being temporarily freed. However, during the appeal, the state won another slipshod victory.

When the Hurricane arrived in prison, he knew he was not going to let prison beat him so he had to pretend he was not there. He did not wear prison uniforms, eat prison food or do work for the prison, as accurately depicted in the movie. Also shown in the movie, he was severely punished for his non-conformist behavior by time in the "hole."

Since Mr. Carter had so much time to himself he decided to read up on the law in order to help in his appeals. Later, he would write many pages of the massive briefs and motions which were included in his final petition brought before Judge H. Lee Sarokin and helped him become a free man. Judge Sarokin stated that they were among the finest legal briefs he had ever read.

After Mr. Carter finished his autobiography in 1974, he became a media celebrity. Rallies and concerts were held in his name. He was the poster child for white guilt and he was raking in the cash from both his white and black support base. Bob Dylan helped put the Hurricane on the tips of everyone's tongues with the song "Hurricane." Mohammed Ali, Bob Dylan, Bill Bradley, Joni Mitchell, and Ellen Burstyn joined in his crusade. The money raised by the efforts of fellow celebrities and other organizations interested in his cause came at a high price.

Shortly after his first release from prison in 1976, Carolyn Kelly, the leader of Mr. Carter's black support base, accused the Hurricane of beating her half to death. Mr. Carter claims he never touched her and that Ms. Kelly was trying to weasel him out of money. He also claims he could have killed her with one punch. As a result, his celebrity support base evaporated because of the highly publicized incident.

In 1987, after exhausting the New Jersey Court of Appeals, Mr. Carter filed the 57-page petition in federal court. Usually, the petitions were three to four pages long, but this was not a concise case. On Nov. 6 1986, the Judge Sarokin read his opinion. In it he ruled that the state had violated the Equal Protection and Due Process rights of the petitioners by appealing to racial prejudice.

Upon being freed, Carter set sail for Canada. He began giving lectures at high schools and colleges. He also began working for an organization dedicated to freeing the wrongfully convicted and those with death penalty convictions. Mr. Carter also began to tackle his last stronghold, his addiction to alcohol.

Mr. Carter continues his work with the wrongfully accused to this present day. He continues to give lectures and comes to the aid of others in need of someone to believe in them, as he himself had for so many years.

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