Wednesday, April 20, 2005


UNFORGIVABLE BLACKNESS: THE RISE AND FALL OF JACK JOHNSON. This is a book review by Stephanie Mathson. She is one of my reference librarians. The book recounts the life of the man who was the first black heavyweight boxing champion.

From the site:

Jack Johnson, a base viol playing vaudevillian who fancied diamond jewelry, elegant clothes and fast cars and once described himself as a “man who always took a chance on his pleasures,” was the first African-American to hold the title of World Heavyweight Boxing Champion. His life and championship reign are documented in Geoffrey C. Ward’s book, Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson.

The title of the book comes from a 1914 quote about Johnson by W.E.B. DuBois, founder of the NAACP. Jack Johnson, with his hard living and womanizing ways, courted no more scandals outside of the boxing ring than his white counterparts; however, for living his life as he saw fit, he paid a heavy price.

The press ridiculed Johnson, publicizing his transgressions with relentless ferocity and using language that to our modern sensibilities is quite shocking. Ward’s use of frequent quotes from early twentieth century news sources makes the book quite difficult to read at times. Ever deferential Black leaders like Booker T. Washington frequently urged Johnson to curtail his offensive behaviors—pleas that journalists were happy to publicize.

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