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Jack Johnson, Rebel Sojourner: Boxing in the Shadow of the Global Color Line

Theresa Runstedtler
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Pages: 376
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  • Book Info
    Jack Johnson, Rebel Sojourner
    Book Description:

    In his day, Jack Johnson-born in Texas, the son of former slaves-was the most famous black man on the planet. As the first African American World Heavyweight Champion (1908-1915), he publicly challenged white supremacy at home and abroad, enjoying the same audacious lifestyle of conspicuous consumption, masculine bravado, and interracial love wherever he traveled.Jack Johnson, Rebel Sojournerprovides the first in-depth exploration of Johnson's battles against the color line in places as far-flung as Sydney, London, Cape Town, Paris, Havana, and Mexico City. In relating this dramatic story, Theresa Runstedtler constructs a global history of race, gender, and empire in the early twentieth century.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95228-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. Preface Sparring Nations, Global Problem
    (pp. xvii-xxii)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-30)
    Jack Johnson and Rebel Sojourner

    Jack Johnson was well aware of his place in the pantheon of global sporting heroes. In 1927, at the age of forty-nine, the retired African American prizefighter reflected on his “tumultuous career” as the first black heavyweight champion of the world. “I am astounded when I realize that there are few men in any period of the world’s history, who have led a more varied or intense existence than I,” he declared. “My life, almost from its very start, has been filled with tragedy and romance, failure and success, poverty and wealth, misery and happiness.”¹ While Johnson claimed that these...

  7. 1 Embodying Empire: Jack Johnson and the White Pacific
    (pp. 31-67)

    On 26 December 1906 Jack Johnson left San Francisco for his first journey overseas, traveling to Australia aboard the steamshipSonoma. At twenty-nine years of age, the African American heavyweight was by no means a rookie; he was already well known in professional prize-fight circles and had traveled throughout the United States. He was also very well versed in the racist ways of Jim Crow America. What Johnson knew less was the kind of reception that awaited him beyond U.S. borders. As his manager, Alec McLean, assured him, Australia could not be any worse than America.¹ Not in need of...

  8. 2 White Censors, Dark Screens: The Jeffries-Johnson Fight Film Controversy
    (pp. 68-100)

    Reflecting on Jack Johnson’s resounding defeat of Tommy Burns in 1908, the Australian promoter Hugh McIntosh declared that the prizefight pictures had “influenced the various coloured races in each country where they were shown.” A self-professed “student of human nature,” McIntosh had noticed “the keen, eager interest displayed by the coloured peoples of the earth in the personality, life, and career” of the black champion. In South Africa the natives had gathered around film advertisements graced with Johnson’s photo. So enthusiastic was their response that police throughout the Union had ordered promoters to “refrain from exhibiting posters, photos, or anything...

  9. 3 Jack Johnson versus John Bull: The Rise of the British Boxing Colour Bar
    (pp. 101-131)

    When Jack Johnson journeyed to London in June of 1911, theChicago Defenderextolled the seemingly progressive racial mores of Britain. “JACK TREATED LIKE MAN AND GENTLEMAN” its front-page headline blazed.¹ The correspondent Sylvester Russell described everything from Johnson’s transatlantic crossing to his “grand arrival in the British capital” for the ready consumption of African Americans in search of hope for a color-blind future. Russell repudiated the various white American claims of Johnson’s second-class quarters during his steamship voyage to London, arguing that the black heavyweight had stayed in the engineer’s cabin, a coveted location. He was also more than...

  10. 4 The Black Atlantic from Below: African American Boxers and the Search for Exile
    (pp. 132-163)

    In 1912 Jack Johnson found himself a political prisoner of sorts, unfairly prosecuted by the U.S. government. His athletic prowess, his dominance over white fighters, his refusal to follow the etiquette of Jim Crow, and, most of all, his penchant for the company of white women had finally caught up with him. With his dubious conviction under the federal Mann Act against white slave trafficking in 1913, Johnson fled the United States, lingering in exile throughout Europe and the Americas for the next seven years. “I know the bitterness of being accused and harassed by prosecutors. I know the horror...

  11. 5 Trading Race: Black Bodies and French Regeneration
    (pp. 164-195)

    In April 1914, a few months before Jack Johnson’s match in Paris against yet another white hope named Frank Moran, theChicago Defenderreceived a rather unfavorable report on the state of race relations in France. Writing from the Hotel des Deux Gares, Ernest Stevens, the well-traveled black chauffeur of U.S. industrialist and philanthropist Julius Rosenwald, confided, “I have not seen many Afro-Americans and I would not advise anyone to come here looking to better their financial condition, as there are very few avenues of employment open to them.”¹ As Stevens noted, “The only exception, perhaps are theatrical folks and...

  12. 6 Viva Johnson! Fighting over Race in the Americas
    (pp. 196-230)

    As war-torn Europe closed its doors to African American civilians, Jack Johnson sought refuge in the Caribbean and Latin America. Although the United States remained off-limits, he was happy to be moving closer to home. No longer in the prime of his career, the thirty-six-year-old champion had been on the run for a year and a half, and his exile was beginning to take a physical and emotional toll.

    Johnson left Britain in December 1914 optimistic about the opportunities that awaited him in the Americas. His recent popularity in France had led him to believe that Latin peoples everywhere, regardless...

  13. 7 The Empire Strikes Back: The “French Jack Johnson” and the Rising Tide of Color
    (pp. 231-252)

    When Jack Johnson crossed the U.S.-Mexico border, spectators swarmed as he posed with U.S. officers in front of the clicking motion picture cameras. The African American heavyweight appeared to be “in a joyous mood, laughing and talking with those about him.”¹ “I’m back home, and it sure feels mighty good,” Johnson exclaimed. “It is home sweet home for me and no one who has never been away can know how good it feels to get back again, whatever is in the future.”² As Johnson recalled, his “viewpoint,” while “never provincial,” had been “considerably broadened by the varied experiences and There...

  14. Epilogue: Visible Men, Harmless Icons
    (pp. 253-262)

    In 1929 James Thurber of theNew Yorkerchose Jack Johnson as the subject of a “Talk of the Town” piece. Though Johnson still walked “proudly,” Thurber noted that “his face no longer gleam[ed] in the ebony and gold splendor which admiring Londoners compared to a ‘starry night’ almost twenty years ago.”¹ Now living in a modest dwelling on 148th Street, the former world champion still enjoyed recounting his international travels for anyone who would listen. “He loves to talk of his favorite city, Budapest,” Thurber observed, “and of the time at the start of the war when the Germans...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 263-322)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 323-338)
  17. Index
    (pp. 339-348)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 349-349)