BHM 18 – Jack Johnson: Winner of the 1910’s ” Fight of the Century”

Black History Month Celebration #18 – 2021 Jack Johnson: Winner of the 1910’s ” Fight of the Century”. This series will cover those making history and historical Black Figures, events, activities and of course music related if possible. We should remember and not lose what we accomplished. Enjoy Black History Month

Jack Johnson: Winner of the 1910’s ” Fight of the Century”

Jack Johnson entered the world ready to fight in the most non-conventional way. As the son of slaves, he worked many unskilled jobs, before transitioning into his career as a boxer. He would later transcend the sport and shake up society in a way people had never seen a black man do before.

When Jim Crow spreading through America in 1908, Jack Johnson took down white boxer Tommy Burns for the heavyweight title of the world. Riding the wave of his success, he then faced off against Jim Jeffries — whom was dubbed “The Great White Hope” — in an iconic and historical boxing match.

Jack Johnson wins the “Battle of the Century” against James Jeffries on July 4, 1910 in Reno, Nevada. The fight between Johnson and Jeffries sparked nation-wide response, including both celebrations and riots. Johnson was the first African American Heavyweight Champion of the World, and held the title until 1915. More

The Battle of the Century: Jack Johnson, Jim Jeffries, and Visions of Race War

andrewdlinden / 16 April 2018

Editor’s Note: Much has been written about the Johnson-Jeffries fight. The following post is an excerpt from Stephen Ayres’ undergraduate history thesis from the University College London (2014). It serves as a reminder of “the Battle of the Century” and demonstrates the potential of undergraduate sport history students to use their research to engage the public.

By Stephen Ayres

On July 4, 1910, it seemed that the world was converging on Reno. Heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson was defending his title against former champion James J. Jefferies. Johnson was black, Jefferies white, and for many observers their meeting seemed to symbolise a greater collision – not just of the fighters, but of their races. As fight day dawned, Americans were queasy with fear and giddy with hope. Johnson won, a result which flashed around the world within twenty minutes and struck like lightning.

This fight was the first to carry the label “Battle of the Century.”  Read more

“Ethiopia hammering America”

Johnson, a supremely talented boxer with a deep resume, was desperate to meet champion James Jeffries from 1903 onwards, but was thwarted by the “colour line.” Former champion John L. Sullivan, a hero to many white Americans, had refused to fight the skilled black challenger Peter Jackson, an Australian, justifying this decision in racist terms. The colour line became a quasi-sacred rule for heavyweights; Jackson ended up playing Uncle Tom on stage, dying penniless.

Jeffries retired in 1905, declaring that “I do not care if Johnson licks the Japanese army . . . [I] will never battle an Ethiopian.” Many journalists protested, with the Los Angeles Times writing that “the color line gag does not go now.” Nevertheless, Jeffries held firm. Johnson instead chased the new champion, Canadian Tommy Burns, around the world, catching him in Sydney on Boxing Day 1908. Local police stopped the fight in the fourteenth round to save Burns, and Johnson had broken the colour line.[9]

This fight was the first to carry the label “Battle of the Century.”  Read more

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