August 14, 2022

Grand Forks TV

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Johnson Jeffries Fight Exposed Racism In 1910 Society

While putting together a recent teaser post for the old newspapers I also created an animated GIF showing a few small pieces from the newspaper. You can view the GIF here

jeffries_johnson_fight_noticesWhile choosing parts of the newspaper content to throw into the GIF I came across two small pieces regarding a film of a fight between a Jeffries and a Johnson. I assumed this was a boxing match but made a mental note to find out why this fight film created so much controversy.

And what I found out was Racism was heating the fire at the heart of the issue. You see boxing with gloves had only had 6 world champion holders before 1908 and all of them had been White men. But in 1908 a Black man, Jack Johnson from America, won the title in a match in Australia. As the story is told in this piece at the International Boxing Hall Of Fame this state of affairs was not liked at all by White boxing fans back in America. Johnson was vilified.

Over the next few years Johnson successfully defended his title against a number of fighters, all white, and the racists began to search for someone, some white fighter, who could win the title back from the not-white-at-all Mr. Jack Johnson. They called former title holder James Jeffries back from 6 years of retirement and the fight became a well promoted event. The white press promoted Jeffries and vilified Johnson in unprecedented fight publicity campaigns.

When Johnson successfully defeated Jeffries riots broke out in a number of cities in America . . . people were hurt – some were killed. Racism rearing its ugly head.

Were those in Ontario and BC trying to prevent the showing of the films of the fight doing so from a racial bias or a fear of riots and calamity or just anti-boxing activists seizing their opportunity? Or a mix of all 3? There’s something for you to research and find out if you’re curios to know.

You might have noticed the title of this piece is Johnson Jeffries but the actual content in the 1910 newspaper is the opposite. But Jeffries was the loser and the contender so why wasn’t it ‘Johnson Jeffries’? I’m no fan of the fight game and wouldn’t know if it’s contender first that is standard or not but Johnson Won so I’m putting him first. Personally I’m partial to the name myself as well. No relation though.

You can view a video about this infamous piece of sporting history below.