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The Fight of the Century: Jack Johnson, Joe Louis and the Struggle for Racial Equality Hardcover – July 31, 2002
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›