As the title suggests, Wayne A. Rozen's "America on the Ropes," which is concerned with the 1910 fight between Jack Johnson and Jim Jeffries, has a good deal to say about the country in which the bout occurred.
In 1910, the racism in the U.S. was not only institutionalized and pervasive, it was unapologetic. And a lot of people thought it was funny. Virtually all of the editorial and sports page cartoons depicting Jack Johnson before his fight with Jeffries present Johnson as a caricature, replete with monstrous lips, impossibly wide eyes, and a huge appetite for fried chicken, pork chops, and watermelon.
In fact, Johnson was a man of many accomplishments. At his training camps, he relaxed (and sometimes entertained the press) by playing the bass fiddle. He was contemptuous of those who felt he shouldn't consort with white women. He was also contemptuous of speed limits. More to the point, he was an exceptionally competent and clever boxer, who understood that a large part of any ring battle should be avoiding or blocking the other guy's punches.
But all these qualities were as nothing compared to the reason people were paying attention to Jack Johnson on July 4th, 1910. As the defending Heavyweight Champ, Johnson was a symbol of black achievement in a country that regarded Johnson's particular achievement as dangerous and unacceptable. When former champ Jim Jeffries was coaxed out of retirement with pleas that he restores the crown to its rightful place upon the head of a white man, his bout with Johnson assumed more significance than any athletic event should be asked to bear.
With newspaper accounts, the aforementioned cartoons,many striking photographs, and his own consistently engaging narrative, Wayne Rozen presents the story of the fight and its context in a thorough and readable package. And it's an appropriately imposing package; America on the Ropes is an expensive heavyweight, weighing in at $70.00 and eight pounds.
This program aired on November 19, 2005. The audio for this program is not available.