Black History Month 2022-Day 3: Leroy Muhammad

St. Louis is known as a center of chess activity today with its Chess Center and Scholastic Center and as the host of the World Chess Hall of Fame. It is also a magnet for attracting international chess talent to several universities in the area. However, St. Louis had a history long before it became the self-proclaimed “Mecca of Chess.” One of the local stars who made a name for the city was Leroy Jackson. This bright young star locked horns with the likes of International Master Elliott Winslow and National Master Charles Lawton.

Born in Little Rock, Arkansas, not many of today’s players will remember the ebony-skinned youngster who was laying waste to competition in St. Louis, winning the city championship four consecutive years (1966-1969) and the Missouri state title for three (1966-1968). The year 1966 was the year of the Olympiad in Havana, Cuba, and the height of Cold War hostilities.

It was also a year where Jackson caught the attention of the chess world winning the aforementioned city and state titles, and winning 1st junior at the 1966 U.S. Open. He would beat future six-time U.S. champion, Walter Browne. It was that year that he also earned the National Master title, the third Black player to do so. He was profiled in the August 1966 issue of Chess Life (180) with an important win over strong master, Orest Popovych.

Leroy Jackson, a 17-year old junior at Sumner High School in St. Louis, Missouri, was the big surprise of the 1966 Eastern Open and promises to reach greater heights in the future. Players at the Eastern watched with increasing amazement as the young man with the 1964 rating on the wallboard chalked up one point after another, capped by victories over Radojcic and Popovych. Actually, that rating was based on just one tournament played last year; Jackson has been very active recently and should now be close to the Master level. This year he won the St. Louis High School Championship 6-0, the St. Louis District Qualifier 4-0, and in rated events swept the St. Louis District Championship 5-0 and the Missouri Open Championship 6-0, including a win over USCF Master John Ragan. Touring the East he was undefeated in two New England tournaments in June before scoring in his biggest triumph yet in the Eastern. Here is his crucial last-round win over Popovych.

Jackson’s first appearance on the National Master List was recorded in the December 1966 issue of Chess Life on page 314.

Leroy Muhammad
Photo by Neil Brennan
Jackson played in the 1967 U.S. Junior Invitational in New York scoring 2.5/7 and eventually moved to the “Big Apple.” At this point, he was more interested in religious studies, joined the Nation of Islam in the early 1970s, and dabbled in entrepreneurial activities. He made a brief comeback in the late 1970s but played casually after settling in Gary, Indiana with his wife Aneesah Muhammad. Together they had nine children and six grandchildren. He was also active with the Gary Muslim Center for more than 30 years until the time of his passing, October 2013. Muhammad was perhaps the first Black player to gain such nationwide acclaim and his 1966 will go down in history as one of the most brilliant runs in Black History.

Daaim Shabazz, “Historic Moments-Leroy Muhammad: A Forgotten Star,” The Chess Drum, 1 September 2006.

Daaim Shabazz, “St. Louis Legend, Leroy Muhammad (1948-2013),” The Chess Drum, 12 March 2014.


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