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Black Boxer Jack Johnson Versus Jim Crow Laws

Case Presentation

Jack Johnson became the first champion of heavyweight boxing of the world from the black community in 1908. This was during a time when African Americans were being subjected to racism and extreme segregation. On Independence Day of 1910, Jack Johnson won the Fight of the Century against James J. Jeffries (Alderman et al. 227). The fight took place in Nevada during the Jim Crow laws era, whereby racism in the US was meticulously imposed. This fight would send shockwaves across the world.

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During this fight, Jeffries, who had already retired, came to repossess the world heavyweight championship for the white race. However, Johnson won the fight, and the results shocked everyone in attendance. Johnson and his team celebrated while the audience stormed out of the stadium in eerie silence (Alderman et al. 229). Race riots then started across the US, and different states banned the circulation of the Johnson-Jeffries film. The riots were between the Black and White communities, who were unhappy with Johnson’s victory. Hundreds of people were injured, and more than twenty others were killed during these riots.

After this fight, however, Johnson lived a lavish lifestyle which alienated him from the Black community. According to (Alderman et al. 229), at the time, Black Americans were seen as manual laborers, but Johnson was exceptional as he enjoyed a flamboyant life. He did not have good relationships with black boxers after becoming the world heavyweight champion. This made black people resent him. However, after his death in 1946, black people revisited his story and realized that he had portrayed powerful Black masculinity that was very appealing. This led to the formation of the Black Power movement in the 1960s. This movement challenged the violence that was anchored by racism and oppression.

Johnson was in love with a white woman, which was an additional challenge to the consistent threats from his white competitors. According to the Jim Crow racist laws, Johnson was arrested for being in an interracial intimate relationship (Alderman et al. 231). He was also accused of violating a law that stated that it was illegal to travel with a white woman across state lines for immoral reasons. Johnson was convicted by a jury of all whites and was sentenced to a year imprisonment.

Johnson’s victory would uncover the particulars that used to cover the violence associated with White supremacy. Additionally, the fight signified that although Black communities were denied many rights, they could still win. Jack Johnson showed the Black community that they could defy social barriers to become the best (Alderman et al. 230). For instance, African Americans could not receive a quality education or start a business. His victory was extremely important since it signified that African Americans could be successful in anything they pursued.

Case Contextualization

Jack Johnson’s victory resulted in a turning point in racial discussions in the US. His lifestyle portrayed freedom for African Americans, and this was a problem for the whites. African Americans who express their wealth are considered to be thieves or to have obtained the money through illegal means. The athletic success of Johnson made him the most hated man in America. Alderman et al. (235) posited that over the years, White communities have felt like African Americans are a threat to the purity of white women. This was the case for Johnson, who was dating a white woman.

In the 1960s, Muhammed Ali, who was a Muslim boxing champion, was widely despised by White Americans. He was actually more hated since he was open about his hatred for American prejudice. They tried to bring Ali down by finding an African American heavyweight boxer to defeat him and symbolize what White Americans wanted from the African American communities. Joe Frazier and George Foreman would be utilized by the US government after Ali’s downfall, but they were unsuccessful (Alderman et al. 237). This led to expansion in racial dynamics in the boxing industry in the 1980s. This was achieved by introducing Mexican and Chicano boxers. A lot of prominent boxers came from Mexico at the time.

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Over the years, the American press has played a major role in creating and sustaining white opposition. This was significant in the way they handled Johnson’s fights and personal affairs. Alderman et al., (240) noted that the press would inflame the communities and create a situation that would demand certain reactions. In Johnson’s case, the reactions were intense after the press published information about him. For instance, the press would emphasize the fact that Johnson was a black champion stirring vehement response among the Whites. This reaction would be worse when the press published that Johnson had affairs with white women. This is the same in the modern world, whereby the media publishes interracial relations among athletes to catch the public eye.

In the sports industry, opportunity, freedom, and prosperity were mainly reserved for the white people. This often led to the oppression and exclusion of African Americans. Historical and contemporary policies and practices have been created to maintain white supremacy (Alderman et al. 241). In this case, the white populace did everything to defame Johnson since he was black. The black community also hated him, since he had the freedom to express his wealth and live a certain lifestyle. The segregation of communities has made it harder for black communities to secure equal treatment in the criminal justice system. This was portrayed in the quick sentencing of Johnson for the same crimes white people were committing.

A major stereotype in the sports industry stipulates that black athletes have higher-level athletic capabilities, which helps them excel at sports. The black men were perceived to have strong muscles that could withstand physical harassment, which justified their mistreatment during slavery and civil war. During the Johnson-Jeffries fight, the Americans were looking for a “Great White Hope” to defeat Johnson due to his continuous wins in the previous boxing matches.


African Americans experience discrimination and harassment from their colleagues, staff, opponents, and spectators. In the 19th and 20th centuries, sports were connected with colleges, universities, and the workplace. Since blacks were shut out of these places, they could not participate in sports even though they were interested in coaching, watching, sports-playing, and administrating. Currently, some sports, such as golf, do not recruit minority athletes. This is because such sports are played at high-end clubs, and socio-economic barriers deter minority athletes.

As stated in the case of Muhammed Ali, religious discrimination affected his career in boxing. The white populace hated Ali because he was Muslim. This is common in sports nowadays, and it is portrayed by the fact that the religious needs of each player are not accommodated. Such needs may include uniforms that players do not feel comfortable wearing. Some uniforms, for instance, may have sponsor logos that do not match with their beliefs. Therefore, sports regulations should have been tailored to meet the needs of all athletes then and now.

Anti-discrimination legislation should have been implemented to provide equal access to sport for all. Any racist acts against black players, such as Johnson and Ali, should have been penalized heavily (Alderman et al. 235). There should have been integration programs that promoted access to sports for children and teens from minority backgrounds. Implementation of legal and policy measures could have prevented the racial profiling of black athletes by the media and leaders in power.

Coalitions should have been built against racism in boxing. Measures should have been taken by sports federations and sports clubs to attract supporters from different backgrounds to sports events. This is because the fight between Johnson and Jeffries, for instance, was attended by white people. If black people were present, they would have cheered Johnson on and defended him when fights arose. Additionally, the stereotype that black athletes had superior athletic abilities should have been stopped.

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This stereotype made people think that black athletes had a unique physical appearance that allowed them to withstand high amounts of pain. As such, they were mistreated by their coaches and representatives. The physicality of black athletes should not have been a consideration, especially in boxing matches. This stereotype is still affecting athletes in the modern world. Similarly, anti-racism awareness campaigns could have helped involve all relevant actors. Johnson was hated by the white community to the extent that black people also resented him. If there were anti-racism campaigns in place, black people could have supported him against the hatred he was getting.

The media could also have played a major in mitigating racism against black athletes. As stated earlier, the press would exaggerate information they would post about Johnson to encourage a reaction from the population. This is what increased hatred against him for everything he did. The media should have been reporting against racist incidents that took place during the boxing matches. They could have also published facts about the boxing champion instead of fabricating information to get a reaction from the public. This would have earned Johnson supporters from both White and Black communities.

Work Cited

Alderman, Inwood et al. “Jack Johnson versus Jim Crow”. Race, reputation, and the politics of Black villainy: The fight of the century. Southeastern geographer 58.3 (2018): 227-249. Web.

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