Boxing's First Black Heavyweight Champ Celebrated a Century Later

RENO, Nev. (March 18, 2010)-- It was called the “Fight of the Century.” July 4, 1910, Jack Johnson, the first African-American World Heavyweight Champion, took on Jim Jeffries, the undefeated former heavyweight champion and racist America’s “Great White Hope.” Johnson won and the rest is well, history. Now, 100 years later, Reno will spend America's biggest holiday weekend celebrating the legacy of Jack Johnson and what Nevada historian, Guy Rocha calls “one of the greatest events in Nevada history..

The stacked weekend – scheduled for July 2-4, and corresponding with Reno’s already-planned Fourth of July festivities – includes a gala Jack Johnson Pardon Dinner, multimedia presentation and silent auction, with past boxing champions and celebrities in attendance; a Breakfast with Champions featuring a celebrity panel discussion, autograph and book signings; as well as live professional boxing at the Reno Events Center promoted by Top Rank Boxing and Let’s Get It On Promotions.

Event goers and boxing fans will also have the opportunity to visit the official Johnson and Jeffries training camps. A ceremonial bell ringing – featuring the original fight bell – will take place on the 100-year anniversary of its actual sounding, at the exact location of the fight.

A spectacle that grew to larger-than-life dimensions due to the racial tension prevalent during that era, the Johnson vs. Jeffries fight lasted 15 rounds before Jeffries’ corner finally threw in the towel, admitting defeat and sparking race riots across America.

The outcome of the fight, according to Rocha, “reflected everything White America feared: A black man had won the heavyweight championship, but he wasn’t an Uncle Tom, he didn’t play by their rules. He had white girlfriends and flaunted the social norms at the time. So ultimately, they made him pay the price with the Mann Act…

“Jack Johnson was robbed of his legacy. He was treated like an outcast. He should have been at the top of his game and able to fight to hold onto the title until someone could beat him. But they didn’t let him enjoy his glory."

Reno’s 100-year anniversary celebration coincides with efforts already underway by U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, and U.S. Rep. Peter King of New York, to secure a pardon for Jack Johnson, who was unfairly convicted of violating the Mann Act – a law that made it a crime to transport women across state lines for “immoral purposes” – in 1913 because he kept company with white women at a time when doing so was considered shocking.

Organizers hope to convince President Barack Obama to travel to Reno to sign the pardon for Jack Johnson during the 100-year anniversary celebration of the Johnson-Jeffries fight this year.

“How fitting that Barack Obama would confer the pardon on a black man who was essentially treated horribly in a white world,” Rocha said. “He broke a barrier in 2008 when he was elected President, just like Jack Johnson broke a barrier by becoming heavyweight champion in his day. It’s too late to atone to Jack Johnson himself, but ultimately, justice delayed is better than no justice at all. We’re trying to absolve ourselves from this stain on American history. We victimized this man, all because he was a great black boxer.”

For more information about the Johnson-Jeffries 100-year anniversary celebration, please see

Article posted on 18.03.2010

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