To speak with Cecil Thompson Sr. is to open a book filled with the rich history of black America in the 20th century. He speaks with solemnity, with reverence, of his experiences -- his amateur boxing career, his travels as a bass fiddler with a jazz troupe through the South in the 1950s, his 30 years as a minister, his poetry.

This is my country,

The only one I know.

This is my country.

Where else shall I go?

But speak with Cecil Thompson Sr. of his role as father and mentor to his two sons -- Vince and Cecil Jr. -- whose own boxing careers are budding, and watch his face light up.

"I just try to be a supportive father," he said. "I render moral support. They're dedicated, always have been, and have learned obedience. They can be good role models for this community."

The father, 60, has been that and more for this community all his life. After starting his own boxing career, "just fooling around at the beach as a youngster," he fought about 25 bouts as a featherweight in the years following World War II, including one bout he remembers poignantly.

"I competed in Washington the night they first integrated the fights," he said. "It was in 1949 at the old Turners Arena at 14th and W. Before that, all the blacks and all the whites were separated. That night there was competition from all parts of the city. I lost."

He then boxed for several years in the Marine Corps, then left the sport entirely. He spent the remainder of the 1950s barnstorming through the Midwest and South with a jazz band, playing his bass fiddle and trying to avoid the ceaseless reminders that this was not a tolerant time.

"I still remember the signs," he said. "Blacks could only go here and whites there. This was about the time of the school decision {Brown v. Board of Education, 1954} in the Supreme Court. It was still more than a little shaky at the time down there. But you put up with it."

I've been here since American history began,

Fought in the wars to defend this land.

I've been lynched, downtrodden and scorned,

Oft made to wish I'd never been born.

So Cecil Thompson Sr. decided to do something about it.

"I was born and raised in the District," he said. "I've always been interested in community activities, and from my boxing experience, the quest for equal rights."

His contribution to the burgeoning civil rights movement in the early '60s was as a counselor for the United Planning Organization, where he worked with ex-drug addicts.

Then there was the Pentecostal ministry. He first preached at the Washington Evangelistic Center in Northwest, then the Craig Community Church, before founding his own church. Yes, his own -- the Miracle Gospel Mission in Chapel Oaks, Md. He led the congregation there for 14 years before stepping down in 1989.

Stepping down, but not slowing down. There were children now to raise, seven in all, four of them boys. Two who liked to scrap in their bedroom, and looked so much alike their mother often dressed them up as twins until they were 12. So the parents bought this pair -- Vince and Cecil Jr. -- some boxing gloves and they started sparring. And Cecil Sr. looked on with pride and a sense of remembrance.

Then one day I was able to see,

Someone else was beholding me.

Someone who cared very much for me,

Picked me up and set me free.

Both Vince and Cecil Jr. box today out of the House of Champions club on Georgia Avenue near Howard University, under the tutelage of longtime trainer and ex-fighter Bobby Brown, who once engaged Rocky Graziano in a memorable duel. Vince is now 22 and Cecil Jr. 24. Both are graduates of Coolidge High School.

"Bobby Brown, he's a teacher," Cecil Jr. said. "If you're dedicated, and there every day, he'll be there every day."

Vince recalled the early career of another successful D.C. fighter, Daryl Lattimore.

"He came in the ring at the House of Champions and just stumbled around a lot," he said. "We all asked: 'Why don't you just quit boxing?' He wouldn't because he was dedicated and wouldn't quit. Bobby Brown recognized this and refused to give up on him. Today he's one of the best."

Vince, a junior welterweight, will make his professional debut against Gaithersburg's Tony Jackson Monday night at the Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza in Rockville. On the same card, Cecil Jr., who won his pro debut last August, will face featherweight Anthony Hardy, also of the District. Cecil Jr. is a three-time national Golden Gloves champion and two-time Mayor's Cup winner.

Both are now promoted by Don Elbaum, former promoter of IBF welterweight champ Simon Brown.

"I don't like to go after amateurs," Elbaum said. "But I talked to people, and these kids are equal in their ability. Usually when you have brothers, someone will say one is the real thing and the other is, well, okay. But no one can decide which of these two is the better one."

Cecil Thompson Sr. need not bother with such a debate. He's been too busy chronicling a time not so distant, but one not yet far enough in the past for his sons and daughters to forget. He has just finished a book, "The Afro-American Quest for Freedom," to be published in early February, with his favorite poem as preface.

I'm glad I accepted that holy plight.

Where truth is the shadow of God who is light.

"Today there's so much more opportunity for these kids," the father said. "I didn't get that many fights, not that many chances."