Nov 20, 2019

Renaissance Man

Joseph Edgecomb / The Collegian

Dr. Fitzalbert M. Marius knew it was going to be a tough fight.

The time and place was the mid-1930s in New York City and Dr. Marius was 13 years old. He was set to box Walter Smith, a fellow youngster from another New York school.

“I knew I could beat him ’cause I was fast,” Marius said.

He threw shadow left jabs and right crosses, exhibiting his fighting prowess as a youth, as he retold the story some 70 years later in the English Department office at Fresno State.

“I threw everything I had at him and I did not hit him even once,” Marius, bellowing his contagious, warm laughter, said.

Marius’ first encounter with greatness not his last

The boxing match ended in a technical knockout as Smith overwhelmed the young Marius with a barrage of punches. Smith and his promoters later changed his name to Sugar Ray Robinson — who, in 2007, was named the greatest boxer of the 20th century by the Associated Press and ESPN.

Dr. Marius’ youth was spent amidst the influences of the influx of African-American writers, poets, artists, actors and musicians who drove the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and 1930s.

Marius immigrated to Harlem, New York, from his birthplace in Colon, Panama, when he was age three. By the 1920s, Harlem had burgeoned into a sanctuary for African-Americans trying to escape the Jim Crow Laws that had laden the South.

“Harlem became a place where the races moved in and out very easily,” James Walton, Ph.D., the English department chair at Fresno State and long-time friend of Marius, said. “It was a very cosmopolitan city.”

“It was a flowering period for African-Americans and the arts and New York City became a magnet for all the artists,” Walton said.

Recalling the Harlem Renaissance

During lunch on Thursday, Sept. 25, Marius spoke to a crowded room about his life.

He said during his talk: “[The Harlem Renaissance] brought to the attention, particularly the black youths, that they had the inherent skill, abilities, talents and intellect to accomplish everything the dominant people in the social order could.”

“Along with the ethical, moral and teachings of my parents, the Harlem Renaissance was one of the greatest influences in whatever accomplishments occurred in my life,” Marius said.

Man of many talents

By age three, Dr. Marius spoke French, Spanish and English; by age seven he was an apprenticed tailor, receiving the designation of master tailor at 17. By age seven, he began his eleven-year study of the violin. He is a painter; he is a poet; he is a biblical scholar who still teaches Sunday school. He has served the Central Valley for over 49 years as a surgeon, performing some of the very first cardiac surgeries in the San Joaquin Valley — the vocation he is most recognized for.

“Dr. Marius is the classical definition of a renaissance person,” said Walton. “This man is a singular character.”

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