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Unforgivable blackness : the rise and fall of Jack Johnson
Geoffrey C. Ward
Adult Nonfiction GV1196.J64 W37 2004

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From Publishers' Weekly:

Johnson (1878-1946), boxing's first black heavyweight champion, was a lightning rod for controversy in early 20th-century America. Even many of his fellow African-Americans resented his unapologetic dominance of the ring and steady succession of white girlfriends and wives, viewing his behavior as a setback to race relations. Ward (A First-Class Temperament) depicts the fear and resentment Johnson spurred in white Americans in voluminous detail that may startle modern readers in its frankness. Contemporary journalists regularly referred to Johnson as a "nigger" and openly advocated his pummeling at white hands, though ample quotations from supporters in the Negro press balance the perspective. Ward first documents the obstacles the boxing world threw in Johnson's path (including prolonged refusals by top white boxers to fight against him), and then probes the government's prosecution of the champ under the Mann Act (which banned the interstate transport of females for "immoral purposes") for taking his girlfriends across state lines. Ward brings his award-winning biographical skills to this sympathetic portrayal, which practically bursts with his research-at times almost every page has its own footnote. Though the narrative drags slightly in Johnson's declining years, the champion's stubborn, uncompromising personality never lets up. Even readers who don't consider this a knockout will concede Ward a victory on points. Photos. Agent, Carl Brandt. (Nov. 1) Forecast: An accompanying documentary directed by Ward's frequent collaborator, Ken Burns, airing on PBS in January 2005 will boost sales. 60,000 first printing. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

From Library Journal:

Many viewed Jack Johnson (1878-1946), boxing's first black heavyweight world champion (1908-15), as a bad man. Ward, the prize-winning FDR biographer and screenwriter with Ken Burns of The Civil War, Baseball, and Jazz, works to explain the way blacks and whites saw Johnson and the way Johnson saw himself. Laying out both the American social context and Johnson's self-concept, Ward insists that what enraged so many about Johnson was his uncompromising individuality in insisting on being his own man. He fought in and out of the ring against being trapped by color and race. In the ring, he won; outside, he lost. His bravado, especially with white women-three of whom he married-embittered many blacks and angered many whites. Ward's detailed narrative chronicles Johnson as champion, fugitive from justice, federal convict, and pitch man who succumbed too often to his own bluster. The story line conjures images of two more recent boxing champions, the youthful Muhammed Ali shouting his greatness while fending off federal prison and the mature George Foreman selling everything and anything as a consummate showman. Ward draws on Johnson's 1927 autobiography, previous biographies by Finis Farr, Al-Tony Gilmore, and Randy Roberts, and many unpublished sources. In an era of much discussion of celebrity athletes and the social impact and imagery of sports, Ward's work is well suited for collections on American society, sports, or race relations. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/04; in mid-January, PBS will air Ken Burns's documentary of the same name, for which Ward wrote the screenplay.-Ed.]-Thomas J. Davis, Arizona State Univ., Tempe (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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