“Here, put these on,” said Edward Robinson as he threw a pair of boxing gloves at his nephew Lewis.
“What are these for,” asked Lewis while coughing from the dust that flung off the raggedy boxing gloves as they hit his chest.
“It's time you learned how to fight, kid,” said Robinson, slightly annoyed at the question.
“What for Uncle Ed,” asked Lewis.
“To give you a fighting chance against the cruelest opponent you will ever face, son, life,” answered Edward while he tied the gloves on Lewis’s hands.
A year later, Herbert Lewis Hardwick Arroyo would fight his first professional match and change his name to “Cocoa Kid.”
In the following years, Lewis would make up eight of the most talented, feared, and avoided fighters of the 1930s and 40s, infamously known as “Black Murderers Row.”
Herbert Lewis Hardwick Arroyo was born on May 2nd, 1914, in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico.
His father, Louis Hardwick, was an African-American merchant marine.
While on leave in Puerto Rico, Hardwick met native Puerto Rican Maria Arroyo.
Hardwick spent most of his time with Maria while he was on vacation. After Hardwick returned to duty on his ship, Maria learned she was pregnant with the sailor's child.
Several months later, Louis Hardwick returned to Puerto Rico on leave and was surprised to know that he had fathered a son.
It's not known precisely how long, but shortly after receiving the news, Hardwick moved Maria and his newborn son from Puerto Rico to Atlanta, Georgia.
While in Atlanta, Louis worked as a porter.
However, his heart was that of a sailor, and he enlisted in the U.S. Navy during World War 1.
In 1918, Louis Hardwick was back at sea serving on the USS Cyclops.
While on a mission, the ship and 306 crew members and passengers vanished somewhere around the Bermuda Triangle sometime after March 4, 1918.
It is the single largest loss of life in the history of the United States Navy, not directly involving combat.
Louis Hardwick left behind his wife, Maria Arroyo, and his four-year-old son, Lewis Hardwick.
Myrtice Arroyo died shortly after Louis's disappearance, and Lewis became an orphan.
Thankfully, Maria's sister, Antonia Arroyo-Robinson, and her husband, Edward Allen Robinson, adopted their orphaned nephew.
Introduction to Boxing:
In 1928, when Hardwick-Arroyo was 14 years old, his uncle Edward took him to a boxing gym and taught him how to box.
Later that year, Lewis had his first professional boxing match at the Elk's Restaurant in Atlanta, GA.
Boxing writer and historian Springs Toledo described a night of boxing and Lewis's first match at the Elk's Restaurant in his article “Just Watch Mah Smoke.”
Here is an excerpt from Toledo's article.
“Monday night was fight night at Elk's Rest, “a colored establishment” on Edgewood Avenue. Promoters jockeyed to put on “all-colored” boxing shows and sold tickets at shops lining Auburn Avenue.
Ladies were admitted free with a male escort, and refunds were typically offered to anyone not completely satisfied with the card. A section was reserved for the white folks who wanted to attend.
Battles Royal opened the shows. These unseemly relics from the days of slavery saw eight or twelve African-American boys (“dark-town huskies” according to one account), no older than Lewis, wildly swinging at each another for coins tossed into the ring. Sometimes, they were blindfolded.
“Lewis was a fourteen-year-old featherweight when he had his first professional fight. It was scheduled for four rounds and was over in two. In no time at all, he had cut Kid Moon to ribbons, put D.W. Jackson to sleep, and scored another three knockouts in his first seven bouts.”
In 1932, while vacationing in Florida, Connecticut Senator Harry Durant visited a local boxing gym, scouting for new talent.
Lewis Hardwick happened to be fighting that day, and the New England Senator was confident that the young pugilist could make him some money fighting in Connecticut.
Durant convinced Hardwick to move to New Haven, Connecticut, where he would sponsor Hardwick’s boxing career.
It was only a short time before Lewis started making an impression on the local boxing circuit.
That’s where local newspaper writers started calling Lewis “Cocoa Kid.”
However, according to Lewis, he picked the name “Cocoa Kid” as his way of honoring Cuban boxing great “Kid Chocolate.”
But Durant probably had more to do with branding Lewis his new moniker, as stated by Toledo in his biography about Lewis.
During this time, Cocoa Kid would fight almost weekly. The Kid fought nineteen times in 1932 alone.
Cocoa Kid was described as a slick and clever fighter with a solid jab and a punishing right cross.
During this time, he would fight some of his career's toughest opposition and most brutal fights.
During the early 1930s, Cocoa fought Jack Portney, Werther Arcelli, Pancho Villa, Jimmy Leto, Teddy Loder, Lou Ambers, and Kid Azteca.
In 1933, he fought and defeated former featherweight World Champion Louis “Kid” Kaplan.
In 1936, Cocoa Kid won the world-colored welterweight title against Young Peter Jackson.
The world-colored championships existed because white boxers refused to defend their “regular” world titles against black fighters.
Black Murderers Row:
Cocoa Kid is known chiefly for his battles with the menacing fighters of “Black Murderers Row.”
Notoriously recognized for their toughness and extraordinary boxing abilities, he and seven other African American boxers would be the most avoided fighters of the 1930s and 1940s.
These fighters were so viciously good that they were dubbed “Black Murderers Row” by writer Budd Schulberg.
Highly ranked contenders and world champions wanted no part of them.
Also subjected to the racism that prevented black fighters from getting a shot at fighting white champions, these fighters had no choice but to create their own boxing tournament, which resulted in sixty-two highly masterful and often ferocious fights.
These pugilistic artisans were Jack Chase, Charley Burley, Lloyd Marshall, Holman Williams, Eddie Booker, Aaron Wade, Bert Lytell, and the Puerto Rican Native, Cocoa Kid.
Cocoa’s first run-in with one of the Black Murderers Row fighters was against Holman Williams in 1936. Cocoa Kid defeated Williams on points in a ten-round match.
Cocoa Kid and Williams will fight thirteen bouts, with Cocoa winning eight of them.
The Kid defeated Holman in their fourth meeting to win the World Colored Welterweight Championship.
According to BoxRec.com, the “Championship belt was donated by The Ring. Referee and sole arbiter Battling Ferdie raised Cocoa Kid’s hand, and fans were so angry they stormed the ring.”
Cocoa Kid fought multiple times against all but one of the “Black Murderers' Row” operators.
Lloyd Marshall was the only boxer of the elite bunch that Cocoa didn't fight.
In 1938, Cocoa Kid lost the world-colored welterweight title to Charley Burley.
According to a documentary by Rich the Fight Historian, from 1939 to 1940, Cocoa went on a winning streak of over seventeen fights against solid boxers, which prompted boxing writers to ask why he wasn't getting a title shot.
“They salivated over the prospect of him meeting Henry Armstrong for the world welterweight title. Promoters in Baltimore offered Henry Armstrong $25,000 to defend his title against Cocoa, and Armstrong refused,” asserted the documentary.
By 1940, Cocoa Kid had been fighting for eleven years and was a veteran of 152 fights.
From 1940-1948, the Puerto Rican native fought ninety-five bouts. In 1940, he fought Holman Williams for the fifth time and won the vacant world-colored welterweight title a second time.
In 1943, he won the world-colored middleweight title in another fight against Holman Williams.
The Kid was starting to show signs of a grueling career.
In 1943, Cocoa Kid enlisted in the United States Navy during World War II.
However, a year later, he was honorably discharged after receiving a diagnosis stating that he was suffering from boxer's dementia.
Cocoa Kid hid his diagnosis from state boxing officials and was granted a license to resume his boxing career.
Cocoa Kid fought thirty-seven more times after his diagnosis and suffered more losses than he did wins.
Cocoa Kid’s last match was on August 24, 1948, when Bobby Mann defeated him.
Herbert Lewis “Cocoa Kid” Hardwick finished his career with a record of 179 -58-11, 48 KOs.
Afterward, he became a sparring partner for upcoming contenders for money. Including the great Sugar Ray Robinson, who was knocked down during a sparring session by Cocoa as he helped prepare Ray for a match.
Cocoa Kid’s life after boxing was nothing short of tragic.
Suffering from boxers' dementia, Hardwick was divorced, penniless, and homeless.
By 1950, Hardwick lived in a basement in the Bronx, which he claimed was burglarized by the superintendents of the building.
Among the stolen property were his naval discharge papers, his social security card, and the last pictures he had of his children.
Between 1950 and 1955, Cocoa Kid would migrate from Chicago to New York and back to Chicago, where he was admitted to the Dunning Asylum, a Chicago State Hospital.
“It was the Veterans Administration that took care of him during those years of estrangement and destitution after boxing. There was no one else. Lewis was eventually transferred to the VA Hospital in North Chicago. He died there one winter’s day in 1966,” wrote Springs Toledo in his biography about Cocoa Kid.
Herbert Lewis Hardwick Arroyo aka Cocoa Kid was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2011.
At a young age, Cocoa Kid was handed a tool bag filled with dull saws and mostly rusted tools.
However, sometimes all you need is one good tool in the bag to compensate for the other crappy ones.
For Hardwick, that tool was boxing.
Boxing gave him a life that otherwise may have never been remembered and discussed.
As the only Hispanic member of “Black Murderers Row,” Cocoa Kid is regarded as one of the greatest fighters ever and, sadly, never was.
Cocoa Kid's fighting schedule and his resume of opponents are exemplary and unheard of among today's fighters.
His notable opponents include Louis Kaplan, Eddie Booker, Bert Lytell, Aaron Wade, and hall of famers Charley Burley, Holman Williams, Battling Battalino, Lou Ambers, and Archie Moore.
He was never allowed to fight for a title because of the color of his skin and was ducked by some of the greatest boxers of his era, including, reportedly, Henry Armstrong and Sugar Ray Robinson.
It's a miracle boxing fans know his name at all; therein lies the greatness of Herbert Lewis “Cocoa Kid” Hardwick Arroyo.