This is the winner of the William Hill Sports Book of the year award. He was the first black heavyweight champion in history (1908-1915) and the most celebrated - and most reviled - African American of his age. In Unforgivable Blackness, prize-winning biographer Geoffrey C. Ward brings to vivid life the real Jack Johnson, a figure far more complex ...
This is the winner of the William Hill Sports Book of the year award. He was the first black heavyweight champion in history (1908-1915) and the most celebrated - and most reviled - African American of his age. In Unforgivable Blackness, prize-winning biographer Geoffrey C. Ward brings to vivid life the real Jack Johnson, a figure far more complex than the newspaper headlines could ever convey. Johnson battled his way from obscurity to the top of the heavyweight ranks and in 1908 won the greatest prize in American sports - one that had always been the preserve of white boxers. At a time when whites ran everything in America, he took orders from no one and resolved to live as if colour did not exist. Because of this, the federal government set out to destroy him and he was forced to endure a year of prison and seven years of exile. As Ward shows, Johnson was seen as a perpetual threat to white and African Americans alike - profligate, arrogant, amoral, a dark menace and a danger to the natural order of things. Unforgivable Blackness is the first full-scale biography of Johnson in more than twenty years. Accompanied by more than fifty photographs and drawing on a wealth of new material - including Johnson's never-before-published prison memoir - it restores Jack Johnson to his rightful place in the pantheon of sporting and social warriors.
Publishers Weekly, 2004-10-11 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. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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