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My Life and Battles

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African American historian Gerald Early refers to Jack Johnson (1878–1946), the first African American heavyweight champion of the world, as “the first African-American pop culture icon.” Johnson is a seminal and iconic figure in the history of race and sport in America. My Life and Battles is the translation of a memoir by Johnson that was published in French, has never before been translated, and is virtually unknown. It covers Johnson’s colorful life, both inside and outside the ring, up to and including his ...
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Overview

African American historian Gerald Early refers to Jack Johnson (1878–1946), the first African American heavyweight champion of the world, as “the first African-American pop culture icon.” Johnson is a seminal and iconic figure in the history of race and sport in America. My Life and Battles is the translation of a memoir by Johnson that was published in French, has never before been translated, and is virtually unknown. It covers Johnson’s colorful life, both inside and outside the ring, up to and including his famous defeat of Jim Jeffries in Reno, Nevada, on July 4, 1910, in one of the iconic ring battles of the early twentieth century. In addition to the fights themselves the memoir recounts, among many other things, Johnson’s brief and amusing career as a local politician and provides portraits of some of the most famous boxers of the 1900–1915 era.

Johnson comments explicitly on race and “the color line” in boxing and in American society at large in ways that he probably would not have in a publication destined for an American reading public. The text constitutes genuinely new, previously unavailable material and will be of great interest for the many readers intrigued by Jack Johnson. In addition to providing information about Johnson’s life, it is a fascinating exercise in self-mythologizing that provides substantial insights into how Johnson perceived himself and wished to be perceived by others. Johnson’s personal voice comes through clearly—brash, clever, theatrical, and invariably charming. The memoir makes it easy to see how and why Johnson served as an important role model for Muhammad Ali and why so many have compared the two. With a foreword by Geoffrey C. Ward.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“In this lively and entertaining book, one of the most controversial figures of the twentieth century pulls back the curtain to tell us, in his own words, his side of the Jack Johnson story. It’s part playful, part boastful, part self-defensive, but it’s always insightful and an important piece of sports and cultural history that has been missing up to now.”

"Christopher Rivers gives a revealing look at Jack Johnson when he was at the top of his profession. It is Jack Johnson as Jack Johnson wanted the world to see him—proud, humorous, defiant, and not too concerned with literal truth, or why he should scrape and bow to the mundane world of facts. He was, after all, his own creation.”

“Of all American boxers, there has been no one like Jack Johnson. Surely this extraordinary man is the most eloquent of all, and, with Archie Moore, the most intelligent. Chris Rivers is to be commended for so capably translating this remarkable document.”

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781597972673
  • Publisher: Potomac Books Inc.
  • Publication date: 6/1/2009
  • Pages: 152
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.80 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Christopher Rivers is professor of French at Mount Holyoke College. He is the author of Face Value: Physiognomical Thought and the Legible Bodyin Marivaux, Lavater, Balzac, Gautier, and Zola. He is also the translator and editor of Adophe Belot’s 1870 novel, Mademoiselle Giraud, ma femme. He lives in Granby, Massachusetts.

Jack Johnson was the first African American heavyweight champion of the world and an iconic figure in the history of race and sport in America.

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Table of Contents

Foreword Geoffrey C. Ward ix

Preface xiii

Acknowledgments xvii

Chapter 1 I Enter the World 1

Chapter 2 My First Experience in the Ring 5

Chapter 3 The Tragi-Comic Story of a Black Preacher, a Little Colored Boy, and a Bottle of Gin 9

Chapter 4 I Arrive in Boston 15

Chapter 5 My Beginnings in the Noble Art 19

Chapter 6 I Go into Politics 25

Chapter 7 Joe Choynski Teaches Me What a Knockout Is 29

Chapter 8 I Fight for Beans! 33

Chapter 9 My Old Friend Sam McVey 39

Chapter 10 Two Formidable Opponents: Marvin Hart and Sam Langford 43

Chapter 11 I Make Some New Year's Resolutions 47

Chapter 12 I Go to Australia 51

Chapter 13 I Go Kangaroo Hunting 55

Chapter 14 I Meet Up with Bill Lang and Send Old Man Fitzsimmons Off to Dreamland 59

Chapter 15 In Pursuit of Tommy Burns 63

Chapter 16 I Am Champion of the World! 69

Chapter 17 I Defend My Title 75

Chapter 18 The Boxer as Man of the World 79

Chapter 19 Stanley Ketchel's Terrific Right! 85

Chapter 20 Mr. Jeffries' Pretensions 89

Chapter 21 The Fight of My Life 93

Chapter 22 Who Will Be the Winner? 97

Chapter 23 I Begin Training 101

Chapter 24 I Set up Camp in Reno 105

Chapter 25 The End of Mr. J.J. Jeffries 109

Epilogue 113

Appendix 1 Advertisement from La Vie au Grand Air for the Serialized Johnson Memoir (January 1911) 115

Appendix 2 Chronology of the Life and Battles of Jack Johnson (up to 1915) 117

Notes 123

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