A great fury gripped America in 1910 after boxer Jack Johnson became the first undisputed black heavyweight champion of the world. In those unenlightened times, a desegregated fight was unheard of. But after years of dodging Johnson’s challenges, white champ James J. Jeffries came out of retirement “for the sole purpose of proving that a white man is better than a Negro.”
When the pair squared off in Reno, the crowd chanted “Kill the nigger” and the ringside band played “All Coons Look Alike to Me.” And then Jeffries threw in the towel in the 15th round. When the news broke, riots and lynchings around the U.S. claimed the lives of at least 20 blacks and two whites.
Johnson was hounded out of the country for marrying a white woman in 1911, lost his title in Cuba in 1915, and spent the remainder of his life as the kind of fallen spectacle we now call “Mike Tyson.” Racism, as ever, remains the hardest palooka to keep down. — Charles Bottomley
After the jump, watch a clip of Jack Johnson‘s 1909 fight.