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BOOK EXCERPT: “Jack Johnson, Rebel Sojourner”



 Jack JohnsonJack 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 Sojourner provides 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, author of “Jack Johnson, Rebel Sojourner,”  constructs a global history of race, gender, and empire in the early twentieth century. Here is an excerpt from the first chapter of the book.

On 26 December 1906 Jack Johnson left San Francisco for his first journey overseas, traveling to Australia aboard the steamship Sonoma. At twenty-nine years of age, the African American heavyweight was by no means a rookie; he was already well known in professional prizefight 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. Not in need of much convincing, the ambitious Johnson agreed to try his luck abroad.

Johnson's initial experiences matched his optimism. Although he battled seasickness throughout the trip, he was sad to leave the “charming friends” he had met aboard the Sonoma. Johnson later recalled, “For the first time in my life, I was pleased to find myself in a group in which we did not take into account people's color.” When he arrived in Sydney on 24 January 1907, the city's white sportsmen embraced him with open arms, and local newspapers declared that he would not be forced to confront a Jim Crow color line in Australia.

Despite this warm welcome, Australian fans had more in common with their white American counterparts than they cared to admit. As they viewed Johnson through the distorted lens of blackface minstrelsy, he appeared more an exotic curiosity than a man. ” He has a genial face,” the Sydney Truth described, “somewhat babyish looking and of the type of the little coons who may be seen devouring watermelons in a well-known American picture.” Since the mid-nineteenth century, minstrelsy had been a staple in Australian theaters, providing white settlers with a glimpse of U.S. racial politics. Australians had eagerly embraced this U.S. import, adapting both its imagery and its language to their local scene. So-called “nigger” bands played on Australian steamers, and street minstrels paraded outside neighborhood pubs dressed in loud suits complete with oversized collars and coattails. When the dandified heavyweight arrived, white Australians immediately cast him as a minstrel. Wrapped up in the sentimental tropes of blackface comedy, Johnson, for the time being, seemed harmless.

Over the next two years the black heavyweight transformed from an amusing spectacle to a serious threat in the eyes of many white Australians. They discovered that he was the farthest thing from a submissive stage darky. Much like in the United States, Johnson's conquest of white men in the ring and white women in the bedroom did not go over well Down Under. These were serious violations of racial protocol at a time when preserving the strength and purity of white bodies was central to white supremacist thought. The public uproar over his relationship with a white Australian woman in 1907 and the subsequent backlash against his 1908 world championship victory over the Canadian Tommy Burns in Sydney were essentially two sides of the same coin.

Though geographically distant and demographically different, the two nations shared the same underlying logics of race and the body. First forged in the performances of blackface minstrels, these links proliferated with the expansion of mass sporting culture at the turn of the twentieth century. By the time Johnson reached Sydney, the athletic body had become an important medium through which white men expressed their mutual interest in the maintenance of global white domination. The image of an ideal citizen was a muscular white male. This focus on the physical provided an easy justification for the exclusion of people of color from mainstream politics and society. Their dark skin and exotic bodies became the tangible proof of their unworthiness for full citizenship rights and self-determination. It marked them as contaminating threats to the health of the white body politic.

The rise of rationalized physical training and organized sport also helped to naturalize social Darwinist theories about the survival of the fittest. “Man is and always will be, a fighting animal,” declared the famed white American and former world heavyweight champion Jim Jeffries. Countless articles in U.S., British, and French sporting magazines reflected the widespread idea that how a group of people (a race, ethnicity, or nation, for example) fought provided a clear demonstration of its relative cultural and political status. Like many of his contemporaries, Jeffries believed that “the better fighter a nation was, the more quickly did it become civilised, because it tackled and downed the things which bound it to savagery more speedily.” Conquering nations “were those that had learned the advantages of scientific fighting.” Boxing was especially suited to the needs of white men and white nations, for it promised to improve their productivity, self-discipline, courage, and self-reliance in the face of growing challenges to their authority in the modern world.

White men, however, could never fully contain the fluid meanings of sport and physical culture. Wherever they traveled, Johnson and other black boxers publicly disrupted not only the prevailing ideals of the white male body and the white body politic but also the racial fictions of the degenerate stage darky. Thanks in part to the growing popularity of prizefighting, their powerful black bodies became the visual portents of racial Armageddon, at once feared and desired by white sporting audiences and celebrated by people of color around the world.

The White Body Politic
Theodore Roosevelt maintained a longstanding fascination with boxing throughout his life in public office, first as the governor of New York (1899-1900) and later as the president of the United States (1901-9). The sport played a big role in Roosevelt's political self-fashioning as a rugged proponent of the “strenuous life.” He often credited boxing with his early success as a colonel in the Spanish-American War. “A good deal of whatever it was that carried me through the San Juan business,” Roosevelt once wrote, “I owed to the lessons I had learned as regards [to] temper and courage in the days when I used to box.” The heroic myths about his charge up Cuba's San Juan Hill with the Rough Riders had helped transform him from an effeminate “Jane-Dandy” to an icon of white American manhood. Roosevelt actively cultivated this image, surrounding himself with professional pugilists like John L. Sullivan, Oscar “Battling” Nelson, and Robert Fitzsimmons. He even hired “Professor” Mike Donovan, a former bare-knuckle fighter and the head instructor at the New York Athletic Club, as his family's official boxing trainer. A regular fixture at both the governor's mansion and the White House, Donovan often sparred with Roosevelt. “I have noted his career in politics, [and] seen him go for the mark there with the same pertinacity that he shows when boxing,” Donovan later recalled. “Resistance, discomfiture, [and] hard knocks in one domain as in the other serve only to make him keener.”

Roosevelt's pairing of physical fitness and political affairs was more than just an idiosyncratic trait. It was indicative of the rising importance of the body as a modern social construction at the turn of the twentieth century. The Muscular Christianity movement had first appeared in 1850s England, and by the early 1900s it had spread throughout the United States. Its proponents argued that Christians needed to cultivate not only their spiritual and mental strength but also their physical health. To glorify the body was to glorify God, and white Anglo-Saxon Christian men had a special responsibility to develop their physiques for the battles of modern life. Over time this body culture became increasingly secularized.

The acceleration of industrialization, improvements in printing, photography, and cinematography, and the rise of consumerism contributed to this cultural reconfiguration of the body. The emergence of music halls, saloons, sporting papers, the penny press, and movie houses fostered a bachelor culture of mass spectatorship and readership in the growing cities of Europe, the United States, and their empires. Physical strength and vigor became favorite topics of discussion in these homosocial spaces. Athletes and bodybuilders also became sought-after entertainers and heroes among the masses. Alongside traveling pugilists, physical culturists like Eugen Sandow of East Prussia and Bernarr MacFadden of the United States developed touring shows and established publishing empires. As these sports celebrities mingled with heads of state in the United States and Europe, the line between physical and political fitness blurred.

The Hobbesian idea of a “body politic” had become much more literal in the minds of Roosevelt and his contemporaries. According to popular belief, a nation's political and cultural dominance was directly linked to the physical condition of its citizens. In a speech before the Hamilton Club of Chicago in 1899 Roosevelt declared that “a healthy state can exist only when the men and women who make it up lead clean, vigorous, healthy lives.”

This focus on physical training also exposed an underlying sense of anxiety about the decline of white men's control in the world. During the height of Roosevelt's popularity many believed that the shifting circumstances of modernity-industrialization, urbanization, immigration, white women's social and political agitation, and imperialism-were wreaking havoc on the health of white nations. Since the 1870s fears of race suicide had been a part of public discussions in most Western countries, and by the early twentieth century some alarmists warned that the white race would die out. The spread of tuberculosis among the white working class and the growing decadence of the white elite seemed ample proof of this impending racial downfall. The flood of white ethnic immigrants and nonwhites into the cities (both metropolitan and colonial) also sparked new worries about racial competition and miscegenation, while white defeats in the first Italo-Ethiopian War (1895-96) and the Russo-Japanese War (1904-5) demonstrated the vulnerability of European powers. From New York to New South Wales, many imagined that whiteness was literally under assault.

Not even the United States' recent economic success could insulate it from the dangers of degeneration. Doomsayers like Bernarr MacFadden believed “old-time Americans” not only were dying out but were also being replaced by the substandard progeny of immigrants. Europe seemed to provide a cautionary tale. As one white American physical culturist argued, “The threatened extinction of the French as a race and France as a nation, should warn us on this side of the water of the dread possibilities which are to be found in a prosperity and a civilization which stifle the natural and encourage the abnormal in man.” In 1907 the number of deaths exceeded the number of births in France. Britain also appeared to be in decline. The lackluster performances of British soldiers and sportsmen on the world stage epitomized this national crisis. Britain's massive casualties during the Boer Wars had brought things to a head, inspiring numerous public projects for racial improvement.

Regenerating the white body politic became tightly entwined with the social engineering of progressivism, the pseudoscience of eugenics, the discipline of anthropology, and the expansion of the state. Many physical culturists believed that crime, disease, and degeneration were related phenomena, particularly among the poor and working class. The inclusion of sport and outdoor activity in formal education and in the programs of organizations such as the Boy Scouts and the Young Men's Christian Association was supposed to minimize this triple threat. With the help of rationalized record keeping and growing bureaucracies, governments began to play a bigger role in the classification and disciplining of their citizen's bodies. With measures like Britain's Contagious Diseases Acts, certain physical “abnormalities” became criminalized. The United States also pioneered laws requiring the sterilization of so-called degenerates.

The rise of racial segregation at home and in the colonies accompanied these efforts at white regeneration. New imaging technologies and the development of physical anthropology inspired the racial categorization of humans along a sliding scale of civilization. The intensification of Jim Crow segregation in the U.S. South, the codification of racial segregation in South Africa, and the rise of restrictive immigration legislation in Australia were just some of the ways in which these distinctions were put into practice.

Boxing seemed to offer some solace in these troubled times. Roosevelt and many of his sporting contemporaries believed that pugilism was the perfect antidote to the escalating problems of national degeneration and white race suicide. In his popular manual How to Box to Win, How to Build Muscle, the white American featherweight champion “Terrible” Terry McGovern claimed that boxing was one of the best ways for “any schoolboy or newsboy or office boy” to acquire a sound body and the skills of self-defense. The sport was not only inexpensive, but it was also easily practiced in the comfort of one's own home. McGovern maintained that knowing how to protect oneself was “not only a convenience, but a duty.” After all, General George Dewey and the U.S. Navy could never have conquered Manila “with a rotten, leaky fleet,” let alone a bunch of effete and flabby recruits. Boxing melded well with the modern demands of white supremacy both at home and abroad.

The haunting specter of Johnson's strong and virile black body came to connect these white anxieties across the Pacific. Commenting on the black heavyweight's recent departure for the antipodes in December 1906, one white American journalist exclaimed, “He will go across and see how they look upon dark meat over in one of King Edward's lands.” Although undoubtedly filled with sarcasm, the writer's metaphorical use of the phrase “dark meat” rightly emphasized the physical dimensions of the color line that Johnson would soon be forced to face.

The most telling event of the African American boxer's first foray abroad was not a ring fight but a court fight stemming from his relationship with a white Australian woman named Alma Adelaide Lillian Toy. Lola Toy, as her friends and family called her, was a twenty-one-year-old traveling pianist whose mother owned the Grand Pacific Hotel, a popular pub in the Sydney suburb of Watsons Bay. The fact that Johnson and Toy's alleged intimacy provoked a public uproar in Australia is not surprising. Given the widespread belief that a nation was only ever as powerful as its citizens' individual bodies, the mounting efforts to maintain white men's physical fitness and white women's sexual purity were fundamentally intertwined. By the early twentieth century the bedroom, much like the boxing ring, was becoming a space of heightened white surveillance in a number of metropolitan and colonial locales.

When Johnson arrived in Sydney his commanding presence inspired white Australians to reflect on their own ongoing debate about the racial contours of citizenship, for he carried with him the freight of the United States' “negro problem.” In 1901 the Australian Parliament had passed the Immigration Restriction Act. This legislation formed the centerpiece of what was popularly known as the White Australia Policy, or the collective political will to exclude nonwhite people, particularly Asians, from immigrating to the continent. While fears of a “yellow invasion” from nearby Asian countries definitely drove the formulation of this policy, Australian politicians also looked to the United States' democratic experiment as a lesson in race and nation building. As the Free Trade Party opposition leader George Reid declared, “We have all seen the problem caused by coloured people in the United States. We do not want that to happen here. The Opposition wants the new Australia to be a land for the finest products of the Anglo Saxon race. This [immigration restriction] Bill will make that happen.” With this legislation they hoped to “whiten” the continent by deporting and preventing the entry of nonwhites and by encouraging white settlement.

Some Australian officials also envisioned interracial marriages between European men and indigenous women as “conduits of whiteness.” They believed that this particular process of miscegenation would allow for the genetic absorption of Aboriginal people into the nation. Grounded in the principle of white men's sexual privilege as well as the desire to seize Aboriginal lands and eradicate Aboriginal peoples' special entitlements, this view by no means extended to sexual or marital relations between black men and white women. As Johnson and Toy soon discovered, much like their white American counterparts, many white Australians were passionate about preserving the purity of their women.

The two met in February 1907, when Toy went to Johnson's stage performance at Queen's Hall to inquire about her mother's missing gold pin. Someone in the heavyweight's entourage had apparently walked off with it during a drunken night at the Grand Pacific. Pressed for time, Johnson invited Toy to drop by his training headquarters at the Sir Joseph Banks Hotel in Botany so that they could resolve the matter. Toy first went to Johnson's hotel accompanied by her stepfather. However, it took a second trip out to Botany with her mother to retrieve the pin. During their visit Johnson invited the two women to watch him train. At just over six feet tall and two hundred pounds, Johnson's taut physique left both Toy and her mother mesmerized as they watched him, stripped to the waist, sparring in the ring. Despite the social taboo against the intermingling of black men and white women, Toy took a liking to Johnson, calling him “a great pugilist and a well-made man.” Even Toy's mother had to admit that he was “a beautiful man.” When Johnson offered to escort the two ladies home, Toy's mother allowed him to ride along in their sulky.

Enamored with Johnson, Toy visited his hotel numerous times. She reportedly accompanied him on carriage rides, watched him spar, and waved mosquitoes away from him as the two nestled together on the hotel veranda. He gave her the pet name “Baby” and she called him “Jack.” When the Tivolians, a group of Aussie chorus girls from the Tivoli Music Hall, visited Johnson's training camp, Toy stood next to the pugilist in a group photo. Johnson had his arm around her shoulder while she held his walking stick. Rumors began circulating about Johnson's escapades with Toy and the Tivolians.

They continued to meet. Toy apparently visited Johnson's hotel room at all hours of the day and night-so much so that her stepfather accused her of disgracing the family and kicked her out of the house, locking the door behind her. She finally had to call on a local constable to convince her stepfather to let her return home.

Johnson's encounters with Toy had taken place during the lead-up to his match against the white Australian fighter Bill Lang in Melbourne. When Johnson stepped into the ring on 4 March, the white Australian spectators greeted him with a mixture of curiosity, derision, and downright awe. As one sportswriter claimed, Johnson looked like the “{hrs}'Old Mammy' out of 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' in his noisy dressing gown and wraps.”

The consummate dandy, Johnson had arrived in a shiny robe decorated with flowers and frills. Despite the writer's obvious contempt for the black heavyweight's flamboyant and somewhat effeminate fashion sense, he could not disguise his admiration for Johnson's physique: “He is the finest black I have ever seen, and is just about as near physical perfection as mortal man can expect to get.” With his superior strength and skill, Johnson dominated the match, and it soon became apparent to all in attendance that “White Australia was fighting a hopeless battle.”

Even though Johnson knocked out Lang in the ninth round, this particular conquest of “White Australia” did not stir up much controversy. After the match Johnson toured throughout Victoria, exhibiting fight films and demonstrating shadowboxing in the small towns of Ballarat, Bendigo, and Geelong. He also garnered the praise of the Coloured Progressive Association (CPA) of New South Wales, a multicultural organization comprised of about forty to fifty African American, Afro-Caribbean, and Aboriginal men who crossed paths as sailors and stevedores on Sydney's docks. Johnson was an obvious choice of hero for the CPA, for he was part of the same rough-and-tumble maritime world as its members, having spent his formative years on Galveston's waterfront. Despite this warm reception, Johnson was frustrated with his inability to coax the white Australian champion “Boshter” Bill Squires into the ring for a big-money match, and he soon resolved to return to the United States.

The CPA decided to host a farewell party in honor of the African American pugilist, announcing it “throughout the length and breadth of the land.” Although this activist organization had been in existence for about four years, it was their celebration of Johnson that brought them into mainstream view. Held at Sydney's Leigh House, the CPA's farewell program featured performances by several prominent artists from the Tivoli and the National Amphitheatre, along with Johnson's own ball-punching routine.

The white Australian press looked upon the whole affair with disdain, describing it as a kind of minstrel show. A reporter for the Sydney Truth called the party a veritable “coon corroboree”-corroboree being the European term for a ceremonial gathering of Aboriginal people. “The gorgeous mirrors of the dance room reflected the gyrations of the coloured cult of the city,” the reporter observed. “At the ballroom entrance several natty young coons attired in faultless raiment, passed in the guests. Just inside the door there was a typical Uncle Tom in evening dress.” Women both “white and coloured” were also in attendance, including Toy and the Tivolians. At one point a group of “coloured damsels” danced a “captivating cakewalk” to the sounds of a “rattling good nigger song.” When the guest of honor finally arrived in a stylish light tweed suit, the “big and little coons” greeted him with “admiring ejaculations of 'Mistah' Johnson.” In one of the denigrating cartoons that accompanied the report, a blackface caricature of Johnson strolled by while a crowd of “coons” looked on in awe.

With the Tivolian Cassie Walmer on his “ebon wing,” Johnson later ducked upstairs for a more exclusive party. The reporter for the Truth peeked in on the festivities, catching a glimpse of the “upper-crust coons” in attendance. Regardless of their class pretensions, Johnson's guests were apparently “going great game” and “chicken was disappearing at a fast bat.” As the reporter recounted, “The sight of Mistah Johnsing picking his gold tooth with the wish-bone of a baked turkey was too reminiscent of a Cannibal Island King and stewed missionary.” In the minds of many Australians the dissolute stage darky had come to epitomize all nonwhites, no matter their ethnicity or social status. As the reporter implied, their colored excess was not just a matter of individual decline but also posed a threat to the white body politic.

These attempts to downplay the significance of this “coon corroboree” betrayed the reporter's underlying anxiety about the presence of this motley crowd of revelers in White Australia. Johnson's farewell party embodied white Australians' worst nightmares, from the interracial mixing of nonwhite men and white women to the open expression of a colored consciousness that transcended national borders. During the event the president of the CPA, “a former steamtug skipper” named Captain W. Grant, had expressed some of the group's political objectives. Although described as an “elderly colored gentleman” who appeared to have “struggled into a dress suit,” Captain Grant “let it be distinctly understood that the Black Progressives didn't like the Commonwealth restrictive [immigration] legislation.” As the correspondent for the Truth scoffed, “They want an open black door, which coons can enter at their own sweet will.” For years white Australian officials had tried their best to keep sailors of African and East Indian descent from entering the nation, forcing them to go through customs at every port, subjecting them to strip searches, and even preventing them from leaving their ships to come ashore. As the CPA honored Johnson it supported the defeat of White Australia both in the boxing ring and at the border.

A surviving photo of the party further contradicts the white reporter's dismissive account of both the CPA and its celebration of Johnson. In actuality the event appears to have been a rather refined affair, with most of the men dressed in dark suits with white shirts and seated around tables. While the Truth's reporter claimed that the “coloured gentlemen and ladies were almost entirely of the American type,” Aboriginals were definitely in attendance, including Fred Maynard, who later cofounded the Australian Aboriginal Progressive Association in the 1920s. Johnson's farewell celebration encapsulated the CPA's integral role in exposing the locals to the political ferment of the African diaspora, thereby paving the way for the influence of Marcus Garvey and other black internationalists on subsequent Aboriginal activism.

His iconic status united these men of color in a common cause, pushing their grievances into public view.

Along with his political contacts, the rumors of Johnson's romantic connections were making him increasingly suspect in the eyes of White Australia. Just before his scheduled voyage home a violent confrontation and ensuing court battle with his former manager McLean forced him to remain in Sydney longer than expected. McLean claimed that the heavyweight still owed him money, but Johnson refused to pay. As he awaited trial Johnson told the Sunday Sun, “I expect to get married shortly, and I'm liable to make this my home…. I like the people here and I'm going to stop; and I'll go into business after I'm here a while.”

“I hope,” Johnson concluded, “that the people of Australia will have the same opinion of me now as they had before this trouble.” Even though his problems with McLean did little to damage his reputation, his choice of fiancee did raise the ire of white Australians.

Contrary to what he claimed in his interview with the Sun, when Johnson lost his case to McLean he set sail for California aboard the steamship Sonoma in late April 1907. Shortly after his return Johnson's wedding plans made their way into several white American newspapers. A journalist in Oakland, California, asked the champion to confirm or deny the rumors circulating about his engagement to Toy. “Yes, it is true that I am to marry Miss Toy and I expect to marry her in November,” Johnson reportedly affirmed. “She will come from Sydney, Australia, and I expect that our wedding will take place in this country.”

Though almost a year had passed since this story appeared in U.S. newspapers, when the Sydney Referee reprinted Johnson's words in March 1908 it caused an instant controversy. Although white Australians had tolerated Johnson's defeat of Lang and merely mocked his connections to the CPA, they now railed at the idea that he was romantically involved with one of their women. Johnson may have been safely tucked away in the United States, but Toy received abuse from all sides. Strangers screamed at her in the street and in the boardinghouses where she stayed while on tour as a pianist. Anonymous letters and postcards with Johnson's photograph arrived by mail, chock-full of condemnations for her rumored racial and sexual transgressions. In desperation Toy sent her attorney to the Referee to demand a printed retraction. She denied ever cavorting with Johnson, let alone agreeing to marry him. The Referee published a halfhearted disclaimer. “If the paragraph has caused Miss Troy [sic] any pain or annoyance we regret it,” they wrote. Despite this printed apology White Australia's abuse of Toy continued.

Determined to clear her name, Toy fought back in the courts. She sued the publisher of the Referee for libel, asking for $2,000 in damages. The publisher's attorney, G.H. Reid, called for the case to be dropped. He argued that it was not inherently “libelous to say that a white woman was willing to marry a black man” since no such color line had officially been drawn in Australia's courts. As Reid emphasized, “The noblest woman in the world could marry a colored man without the slightest imputation being made against her morality, charity or modesty.” Yet this was certainly not the case in practical terms. Regardless of Australia's laws, customary ideas about the natural laws governing race and the body made Toy a guilty party in the court of public opinion. Much like the discussions surrounding the CPA's farewell party for Johnson, the ensuing court case exposed the prevailing fears of interracial mixing and racial subversion in Australia's port cities. Toy, a single white working woman, had freely participated in Sydney's social life, opening herself up to illicit encounters with nonwhite men.

Reid cross-examined Toy in front of Chief Justice Sir Frederick Darley and a jury of four men. Strategically clad in white, the young pianist repeated under oath that she had never been in any kind of relationship with Johnson. Reid tried to break Toy on the stand using as evidence the group photo that showed Johnson's arm around her, but she refused to recant her story. Claiming to be “the unconscious victim of a harmless conjunction of events,” Toy said she was unaware of Johnson's arm on her shoulder and that the photographer had given her the walking stick to hold. As she left the witness stand Toy fainted from the stress of Reid's scathing cross-examination and had to be escorted away.

The defense then put Johnson's white trainers, Steven Hyland and David Stuart, on the stand. They provided some of the most damning testimony of Toy's racial and sexual wrongdoing, depicting her as a disreputable woman. Hyland had supposedly threatened to resign if Johnson continued to allow Toy to visit his hotel room. “I saw her there three or four times,” Hyland told the court. “Her mother was only there once. At other times, when the mother was not there, the two were in the room by themselves.” He even alleged that one night Johnson and Toy had been in the room alone with the lights turned low. In cross-examining Hyland, Toy's lawyer, J.C. Gannon, asked, “Do you suggest anything improper between Johnson and Miss Toy?” While Hyland maintained he was not aware that anything “improper” had happened between them, he remembered hearing Toy say, “Here are all my rings. Come into town and marry me to-morrow morning!” Stuart added insult to injury when he claimed to have seen Johnson and Toy dancing together at a party. He also stated that he saw them cavorting one evening at the Commercial Hotel, where Toy had been drinking “a brandy and soda” at the bar. The two had left together in a cab.

Toy's side called upon two witnesses, one a single woman named Ellen Gertrude Brown. Brown did her best to defend her friend's respectability, declaring that they had stayed together on the nights that Toy had visited the Sir Joseph Banks Hotel. She also maintained that she had never seen Toy dance with Johnson, nor, for that matter, had she witnessed “any familiarity at all” between the two. Still, Reid managed to reduce the young woman to a sobbing mess during his blistering cross-examination.

In a last-ditch effort to demonstrate Toy's “innocence,” Gannon asked his client if she would be willing to submit herself to a chastity test and Toy said yes. Both the defense and the judge agreed that this measure was extreme given the parameters of the case, yet Gannon realized there was much at stake in proving Toy's sexual-and, by extension, racial-purity. In his closing remarks Gannon pleaded on Toy's behalf. He argued that if the public continued to believe that Toy had been intimate with Johnson she “would be stamped as an abandoned strumpet.”

His entreaty must have struck a chord, for the four-man jury reached a guilty verdict after two hours of deliberation, awarding Toy $500 plus court costs. Five years before Johnson's Mann Act conviction for white slave trafficking in the United States, his penchant for white women had already come under attack in Sydney. The Australian court had refused to endorse the idea that a white woman could desire a romantic or sexual relationship with a black man. This policing of the bedroom was part and parcel of the period's larger concerns about the preservation of white nations and the maintenance of white imperial control. It was also just the beginning of Johnson's numerous fights over the global color line, both in and out of the boxing ring.

To purchase the book, published by the University of California Press, click here.

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Three Punch Combo: A Bouquet for “ShoBox” and More



new television

THREE PUNCH COMBO — We are embarking into a new age in boxing. There are new television contracts and digital platforms available that are making the sport more visible than ever before to the masses. But with all these new deals and platforms, it is important not to forget some of the consistent programming that has been around for some time. There is no better example of this than the ShoBox series on Showtime.

ShoBox, more formally ShoBox: The New Generation, began with a simple premise of matching young prospects in with tough opposition. To get their fighters on this series, promoters would have to find credible opponents who could potentially test and maybe even upset their prized prospect. This premise has led to consistently competitive and entertaining fights in the more than 200 broadcasts since the inception of the series in 2001.

This past Friday, we saw just how this premise works once again. There was a four fight card that featured competitive fights on paper in all the matches. However, in two of those matches there did seem to be clear favorites though each of the respective fighters was being matched with their toughest foe to date.

James Wilkins and Misael Lopez opened the telecast in a 130-pound contest. Wilkins was featured in a documentary that aired on Showtime just prior to the card and was expected to make a smashing television debut. He was a knockout artist and the thought was that he would put on a show to open the telecast. But instead, Wilkins got a boxing lesson from Lopez who was busier from the outside and managed to mostly avoid the power of Wilkins throughout the contest in winning an eight round unanimous decision.

The main event featured Jon Fernandez facing O’Shaquie Foster in another 130-pound contest. Fernandez had been getting a lot of buzz and many in the sport considered the Spaniard a future star. This was supposed to be a test for Fernandez as Foster (pictured on the right) represented a step up in class, but nonetheless many expected Fernandez to pass the test with flying colors. Instead, the power punching Fernandez was clearly out-boxed by Foster for ten rounds in an entertaining fight.

These two fights showed once again that when young fighters are matched tough we often get better than expected fights that can sometimes deliver surprises. This coming Friday, the series returns with highly touted lightweight prospect Devin Haney (19-0, 13 KO’s) in the main event taking on former world title challenger Juan Carlos Burgos (33-2-2, 21 KO’s). This is a fight in which Haney is favored but one in which he is facing the toughest challenge of his young career. At the very least, this should be a test for the highly touted 19-year-old Haney and I am certain we get a compelling fight.

ShoBox is boxing’s most consistent series and one that just continues to provide fight fans with high caliber, competitive fights.

10 Percent or 10 Pounds – How To Combat Fighters Who Blow Up In Weight

It is time to address the issue of fighters gaining an absurd amount of weight following the weigh-in. There is a reason why we have weight classes in boxing. If one fighter enters the ring weighing significantly more than his opponent, it gives the bigger fighter a big advantage. This can make for not only non-competitive fights but potentially dangerous situations. I have a simple solution that I think can combat this problem.

In past articles, I have touched on the issue of fighters who miss the contracted weight. My argument has always been to implement a system with stiff financial penalties. So in a similar aspect, I think stiff financial penalties can combat the continued problem of fighters blowing up in weight after the official weigh-in.

What I propose is second day weigh-ins where fighters would not be permitted to put on more than ten pounds or 10 percent (whichever is more) of the contracted weight limit. If they are over, the fight still goes on but the fighter who misses the second day weight limit pays a substantial fine. This simple adjunct can be easily administered by the various state commissions in the United States (or any other commissions worldwide).

Here is an example:  Let’s say we have a fight contracted at 130 pounds and each fighter weighs in at 129 pounds. The second day limit would be 10 percent of 130 pounds which was the contracted weight. So each fighter could come in at a maximum of 143 pounds. Now let’s say one fighter comes in at 146 pounds. The penalty I propose would be 20 percent of that fighter’s purse per pound over the weight. And this money goes directly to their opponent. Under this example, the fighter over weight would lose 60 percent of his purse.

Zero Shouldn’t Mean That Much

We are in an era, largely due to The Floyd Mayweather Jr. Factor, where fighters are often overly protected to keep that precious zero in the loss column. But to do so, they are frequently matched with soft opposition and learn little from dismantling their overmatched foes. There is little to no growth in their career during this period and though the record may get glossy, the development of the fighter may be stunted.

Setbacks can humble fighters and make them see what needs to be done so as not to experience that feeling again. They become better overall fighters and put themselves in a better long term position in their career.

This past weekend, we saw two once promising prospects bounce back with career defining wins after suffering an early unexpected defeat. They are both now in prime position to have their respective careers blossom which may not have otherwise been the case.

Earlier I mentioned O’Shaquie Foster’s upset win against Jon Fernandez. Three years ago, Foster was a highly touted prospect. He had a good amateur background and was blessed athletically with dynamic speed. After building up an 8-0 record against less than formidable opposition, he lost in a dreadful performance to Samuel Teah. Another loss would follow several months later to Rolando Chinea. But Foster clearly learned from his mistakes in these fights and bounced back, layering his natural athletic ability with much improved skills in frankly outclassing Fernandez. Foster’s losses made him take a step back and re-evaluate what needed to be done inside the ring. He is now in prime position to become a contender in the 130-pound weight division.

Luke Campbell was a 2012 Olympic Gold Medalist and considered a can’t-miss future star in boxing. But in his 13th pro fight, in a rather shocking development, he was put on the canvas and lost a split decision to veteran Yvan Mendy. Another loss followed two years later against Jorge Linares but Campbell performed well while losing a split decision and flashed signs of improvement from the Mendy setback.

The rematch with Mendy for Campbell took place this past weekend and Campbell did what many expected him to do in their first encounter. He boxed effectively from the outside and mixed in precision combination punching to easily avenge the defeat. It was a dynamic performance by Campbell and put him in line for a big fight at lightweight.

Luke Campbell is a vastly different fighter from the one who lost to Mendy three years earlier and appears primed to potentially live up to the once high expectations. He is in a better spot today in his career due to what he learned from that first loss to Mendy.

Photo credit: Dave Mandel / SHOWTIME

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In Dismantling Povetkin, Joshua Recaptured His Swag among the Heavyweights



experienced opponent

He was in against a very crafty and experienced opponent in former WBA titlist Alexander Povetkin 34-2 (24). And although he was troubled by the dangerous Russian fighting small as he tried to inch his way in and time him, AJ adjusted well and started to take the initiative and dropped and stopped Povetkin in the seventh round, retaining his WBA, WBO, and IBF heavyweight titles and thus becoming the first fighter to ever stop Povetkin, something Wladimir Klitschko failed to do.

During the fight AJ was forced back. He had to adapt to Povetkin making him punch down and that caused him to be a little tentative, especially after being bloodied from a broken nose in the first round. And early on, AJ was a little confused and busy trying to keep Povetkin occupied from outside so he couldn’t get in on him. His most effective weapon in doing such was his left jab, delivered to the head or body, although the fight really turned when he began putting his one-two together. Then after a fairly evenly-paced bout, AJ slowed some with the hope it would lure Povetkin to close in a little harder, and he did.

As Povetkin, who came to fight, became more assertive, he became more vulnerable. AJ found the openings for his big right hand and left hook. With the first really solid right hand that bounced off his chin, Povetkin buckled and instinctively went back. Joshua pursued him and then, with near Joe Louis-like accuracy, put his right hands and hooks together, along with a beautiful right to the body in the middle of the assault and finished his game opponent.

Once again it was shown that trading with AJ is almost certain suicide. Povetkin was in great shape and would’ve been a handful for any other heavyweight in the world because he no doubt brought his A-game. Sometimes it takes AJ a little while to get going, and if you don’t do anything to bother him or wake him up, he doesn’t fight with the urgency of a “Smokin” Joe Frazier. However, when you wake him up and force him to cut loose, he’s so dangerous that he doesn’t need too many clean shots to end it. And making Joshua more lethal is that he has both short and inside power in both hands.

After months of hearing how Povetkin was the most serious threat to Joshua, that’s now finished business. Prior to the bout The Ring magazine rated the top six heavyweights in the world as follows…..Joshua, Wilder, Povetkin, Ortiz, Whyte and Parker, in that order. Now Joshua is 3-0 (2) versus Povetkin, Whyte and Parker which squashes the narrative that he has fought weaker opposition than WBC title holder Deontay Wilder 40-0 (39) who has only faced Ortiz among the top six.

Today, the most widely levied criticism of any elite fighter is that he didn’t fight the best man or men in his division. Fighters can’t control who their contemporaries are but they can control fighting the best of their era. Rocky Marciano’s era wasn’t stellar, but he fought every top fighter who was in line to challenge him. Floyd Mayweather fought in a stout era – the difference is an overwhelming majority of his bouts with big name opponents were strategically manipulated so that he faced them on the downside of their career – and that’s a fact, not a theory.

Forty years after his last victory in a title fight, Muhammad Ali is respected and revered as a fighter even by those who don’t claim to be a fan of his. Why? He wasn’t the most fundamental boxer in heavyweight history nor was he the biggest puncher, and not all of his fights were edge of your seat exciting. The thing that’s often cited as to why he was a marvel is that he fought the best of the best during one of the deepest eras in heavyweight history. There were a few times between 1975-77 that he held a win over every fighter ranked among The Ring magazine’s top-10. Sure he fought a few Brian London’s and Jean Pierre Coopman’s, but London was encompassed by Sonny Liston and Ernie Terrell during the 1960s and Coopman by Joe Frazier and Ken Norton during the 1970s.

Anthony Joshua hasn’t yet sniffed the greatness of Ali on many levels, but he is on the same trajectory in regards to meeting and defeating the best of his generation. By the end of this month, the WBC heavyweight title fight between Deontay Wilder and former champ Tyson Fury will likely become official with them meeting in early December. And regardless of who wins, Joshua, if he really wants to etch a great legacy, must pressure the winner to meet him in their next bout. In addition to that, he must tell his brain, aka Matchroom promoter Eddie Hearn, to forget about winning the purse war if it is the only stumbling block. If the winner of Wilder-Fury is impressive, he will have earned a 50-50 split.

During the faux negotiations between the Joshua and Wilder camps this past summer the purse split was the focal point. And prior to the prospect of Wilder and Fury meeting, Joshua clearly held the better hand based on his resume and owning three titles to Wilder’s single title.  But the Wilder-Fury winner will have closed the gap and Joshua needs to be next while the fighters are at or near their prime. The fact is Joshua versus the Wilder/Fury winner will be the most widely anticipated fight in the heavyweight division since Lewis-Tyson and maybe even since Tyson-Holyfield I. The onus is on the fighters to make it happen and they both have the clout to make sure it does, especially Joshua.

Interviewed in the ring after dispatching Povetkin, AJ said it didn’t matter to him who he fought next as long as it’s Wilder or Fury, but it was obvious that he preferred Wilder. A lot depends on how Wilder fares with Fury, but until then, here’s what we know…..Alexander Povetkin and Luis Ortiz are about on the same level; having never faced each other, it’s a tossup as to who’d win. Both Joshua and Wilder scored impressive stoppages over Povetkin and Ortiz respectively…AJ needed seven rounds and Deontay needed ten rounds. During his bout with Ortiz, Wilder was knocked around the ring and had to endure a few big exchanges, some of which he came out second-best. Wilder was also nearly stopped in the seventh round but battled back, summoning great courage and reserve to win a fight he was losing. Against Povetkin, Joshua was more troubled than he was beaten up. And once he found his range and pace and began putting his punches together, the fight ultimately ended when AJ got off with his best stuff. In essence, Joshua was more impressive against Povetkin and had fewer close calls than did Wilder against Ortiz.

Between now and the time Wilder fights Tyson Fury, it’ll be debated as to who was more impressive – Joshua against Povetkin or Wilder against Ortiz; the answer is clearly Joshua for the reasons stated. Moreover, when analyzing a fight, A + B doesn’t equal C. Joshua will be favored over either Wilder or Fury, but probably along the line of 7-5 and nothing will change that.

The thing that emerged from Joshua dismantling Povetkin is that AJ recaptured some of the limelight and swag he ceded to Wilder this past March. AJ is again the fighter to beat in the heavyweight division and will probably get the bigger purse split regardless of whether he faces Wilder and Fury.

That said, he better not let the fight fall through over it!

Between 1977 and 1982, Frank Lotierzo had over 50 fights in the middleweight division. He trained at Joe Frazier’s gym in Philadelphia under the tutelage of the legendary George Benton. Before joining The Sweet Science his work appeared in several prominent newsstand and digital boxing magazines and he hosted “Toe-to-Toe” on ESPN Radio. Lotierzo can be contacted at

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Tanaka vs. Kimora: A Monday Morning Treat For Serious Fight Fans



Kosei Tanaka was just 4-0 the first time he was appraised on The Sweet Science back in 2015; the question then was, is Tanaka the world’s brightest boxing prospect? The question now is whether or not Tanaka is about to add a strap at a third weight to an already glittering career that has seen him annex belts at 105 and 108lbs in just his first eight fights.

Now 11-0 with seven knockouts he prepares, this coming Monday, to duel Sho Kimura in Nagoya, Japan and with a lot more than just the WBO trinket on the line.

Hearts and minds, as always, translate into dollars and yen. The winner of this all-Japanese contest will find himself buoyed in fame, glory and gold in his home country, which also happens to be one of the few places on the planet where a boxer can collect a small fortune without ever leaving his native shores. Should the winner dare to dream a wider dream, then that too can be facilitated by the win.  Even fistic denizens of boxing strongholds in Japan and Britain feel a shiver run down their spines when the words “Las Vegas headliner” are whispered into their ear.

The favored man among the hardcore in the west is Tanaka. He is still very young at just twenty-three years old and is slick and quick, what the west expects of a Japanese force. Interestingly enough, however, the Japanese seem to be leaning towards Kimura: older, at twenty-nine, armed with a superb work-rate, good power, limited technique but the conqueror of Chinese superstar Shiming Zou who he stopped in the summer of 2017. Zou may have had his bubble burst by the Thai brawler Amnat Ruenroeng in 2015, but it was Kimura who sent him stumbling into retirement and at a time when the talk was of China stealing Japan’s thunder as boxing’s home in the east.

Kimura was indeed impressive that night in Shanghai. He maintained pressure with wonderful variety, eschewing the jab, perhaps, for spells, but filling those gaps with an assortment of wonderful punches, most of all his body attack, which was persistent, withering, and apparently went unscored by two of the three judges who somehow had the Chinese ahead at the time of the eleventh round stoppage. Zou had shown a skill for flurrying while fleeing and Kimura had shown him how to fight.

Now a strapholder at 112lbs, Kimura staged two defenses in the following twelve months. The first was against Toshiyuki Igarashi, the man who beat Sonny Boy Jaro, the man who had beaten the superb champion Pongsaklek Wonjongkam before a softer fight against Froilan Saludar. He won both by stoppage.

Kimura, then, rather came from nowhere but made the most of his arrival. What he displayed in all three of these fights was a determination to offer pressure and footwork educated enough to do it while taking many fewer steps than his harried opponent. A tad overrated as a puncher, I suspect, he places himself in hitting position often enough that his default fight plan – chase, harass, throw – makes him capable of hurting his opponents by way of persistence and pressure.

He left Zou, Igarashi and Saludar, broken in his wake.

In short, he is the type of opponent Kosei Tanaka has been waiting for.

There have been calls for Tanaka to be considered a pound-for-pound talent should he overcome Kimura this Monday. I understand the impulse. Tanaka, were he to triumph, would become a three-weight world champion and he hails from a boxing territory which has little direct control over the meaningful pound-for-pound lists, if such a statement is not a contradiction in terms.

In short, it is felt he would be undervalued.

Tempering these calls is the fact that he has never beaten a divisional number one and that Kimura would be, by far, the best opponent he would have bested, and the most proven. Some Tanaka opponents have come good after he defeated them, some were ranked in the lower reaches of their respective divisional top tens when he matched them, but none are scalps as impressive as those dangled by the likes of Errol Spence or Anthony Joshua, who populate the nine, ten and eleven spots in reputable lists.

But this is neither here nor there; the key is not what Kimura does not represent, it is what he does represent. He is the best that Tanaka has met and, I would argue, the first truly elite fighter that Tanaka has met. He is the litmus test and he is one with a stylistic advantage.

Tanaka can punch. Here we will find out whether or not he punches hard enough to keep Kimura off him. Personally, I doubt it and that means that Kimura is going to hand him a serious gut check.

Interestingly, it will not be Tanaka’s first. The first time I wrote about him I stressed that his chin was essentially untested. That is no longer true. Tanaka, who is reasonably sound defensively, can be lazy in minding himself and foolish in pursuing the attack.

Thai puncher Rangsan Chayanram checked him in 2017, delivering a serious eye injury among other ignominies before succumbing in nine; puncher Angel Acosta, a ranked fighter if not a great one, hit and hurt Tanaka repeatedly late in their 2017 contest. If Tanaka has been learning these lessons, expectations concerning his potential may be realized. If he is not, he will fall short. Kimura is the man to test him.

Kimura’s experience and seemingly limitless twelve-round stamina are to be pitted against Tanaka’s skill, proven heart and taut footwork. It sees a superior technician – Tanaka – who has shown a propensity for being drawn into a cruder fighter’s wheelhouse matching an aggressive stalker – Kimura – who specializes in drawing technically superior foes into knockdown-drag-out scraps.

It is framed both as a fight that is likely to finish a future pound-for-pounder’s education and a fight where a young pretender is found out by a grizzled veteran.

Best of all, it is a fight that fight fans can watch for free, simply by clicking here.  The Asian Boxing website has secured exclusive international rights to the fight and will broadcasting it, free of charge, to anyone with an internet connection. As can be seen here, the fight is due to start at 4pm Japanese time.

All the reader has to do is find out what that means for timing in their own corner of the globe and a potential fight of the year will unfold before his or her eyes free of charge.

World class boxing being broadcast for free and including two of the best below 115lbs; a stylistic crossroads contest that opens up the on-ramp to pound-for-pound recognition for at least one of the combatants – on a Monday.  All facts worth keeping in mind the next time that someone tells you boxing’s prime was any number of decades ago.

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