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The Fight of the Century: Jack Johnson, Joe Louis and the Struggle for Racial Equality Hardcover – July 31, 2002

4.5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

"Among the most prominent African Americans between the end of the first Reconstruction and the beginning of the second," heavyweight champions Jack Johnson and Joe Louis embodied the hopes of black America. Through their stories, historian Thomas R. Hietala explores race relations in his scholarly but accessible history, The Fight of the Century: Jack Johnson, Joe Louis, and the Struggle for Equality. He traces the extraordinary symbolic meaning their victories had for both black and white spectators and media, and the historical backdrop against which their respective victories took place, from the rash of exceptionally brutal lynchings of the 1910s and Woodrow Wilson's frankly anti-integration policies, to the evolution of the urban ghetto and the persistence of Jim Crow in the 1930s and 1940s.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Boxing and civil rights are rarely discussed in the same sentence without Muhammad Ali. But here is an entire book about race in boxing that barely mentions Ali, focusing instead on two other African American heavyweight champions, Jack Johnson and Joe Louis. Johnson stunned the white world when he successfully defended his title against Jim Jeffries, the first and greatest Great White Hope, on July 4, 1910. But Johnson's career and life derailed when he married a white woman, enraging blacks and whites alike. Eventually convicted of forcing white women into prostitution, Johnson spent years in exile and prison. He also, curiously, advised Max Schmeling on how to beat Joe Louis. The defeat of the German Schmeling by Louis in 1937 represented not only a victory of black over white but also of democracy over Nazism. Descriptions of the actual boxing matches are brief and a tad dry, but Hietala evokes the larger fight--for equal opportunity inside the ring and out--with passion and detail, discussing history and politics alongside the careers of two pioneering black champs. John Green
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Routledge; First Edition edition (July 31, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0765607220
  • ISBN-13: 978-0765607225
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.1 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,365,167 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover
I had the privilege of taking two history classes with Thomas R. Hietala and being one of the many students he mentored. In the pages of this book Professor Hietala achieved several goals; exploring the history of race relations, sharing his love of boxing, writing a biography of these two dynamic people Johnson and Louis, looking at their roles as cultural symbols for the times while exploring the complexities of history and contradictions of American ideals. He is the same on paper as he was in the classroom encouraging us as readers to use the historic pieces (primary source history, newspaper articles, pictures, statistics, stories, biography, interviews, etc) to focus our picture of the past.

Jack Johnson was an uncompromising person who lived his life by his own standards. Johnson's 1908 win and his retention of the heavyweight title began mainstream America's the quest for a great white hope. In the context of the times to have a prominent Black athlete was a phenomenon. Johnson was a rebel, and a lightning rod of racial conflict. He consorted with prostitutes, drank, gambled, brawled, and married a white woman; he did things that are not unusual for athletes in today's culture but then were scandalous. He also drew criticism from the Black intelligentsia because of his behavior.

Professor Hietala writes about how the defeat of Jefferies who was coaxed out of retirement to fight Johnson on July 4, 1910 resulted in a surge of Black pride that led to a cultural backlash. By 1915 you had the film Birth of a Nation by D.W. Griffith and race riots all over the country. He also devotes a lot of time to Johnson's trial under the Mann Act; and his fall from greatness.

The ascension of Joe Louis had the opposite impact on society.
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Format: Paperback
Not Running, Not Hiding
Thomas Hietala's Fight of the Century: Jack Johnson, Joe Louis, and the Struggle for Racial Equality is a fascinating historical treatment of how two black boxing champions, Jack Johnson and Joe Louis, affected and reflected racial attitudes in the United States during the first half of the twentieth century. Hietala mixes an array of anecdotes with historical record to keep his book moving through three hundred and eighty-six pages.
Jack Johnson's quest for and conquest of the heavyweight boxing title in 1908 stimulated a search for a "Great White Hope," a term penned by none other than American writer Jack London. Racial theories of the time, which included the "small crania" and "arrested cognitive development" with respect to blacks were further reinforced by Tom Dixon's racist novel The Clansman and later D.W. Griffith's film, Birth of a Nation in 1915. Johnson was undaunted, however, and lived by his own code inside the ring and out. He smiled at vanquished foes, cavorted with prostitutes, drove fast cars and married a white woman at a time of brutal lynchings and when many states outlawed interracial marriages. Johnson's defeat of two white champions frightened a public that saw Johnson as a dangerous symbol and challenge to white political and social authority. Johnson antagonized not only whites but also many black intellectuals who thought that Johnson's public personae and unapologetic lifestyle tended to reinforce the worst white stereotypes about blacks.
Hietala's research is exhaustive. He devotes individual chapters to the racial context of the times that Johnson and later Joe Louis, lived. Hietala's rich trove of anecdotes makes the Fight of the Century not only informative but also highly entertaining.
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