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I had to beat him for a cause : black heavyweight champions as icons of resistance

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Title:I had to beat him for a cause : black heavyweight champions as icons of resistance
Authors:Newalu, Michael Christopher
heavyweight champions
Date Issued:Aug 2012
Publisher:[Honolulu] : [University of Hawaii at Manoa], [August 2012]
Abstract:Boxing, historically, has been perhaps the most racialized of all major professional sports in the United States. This is to say that race has played a central role in the politics of the sport since its inception, mirroring the role played by race in the broader politics of American life throughout United States history. From the dawn of American professional prizefighting, which for the purposes of this argument will begin with the adoption of the Marquess of Queensberry rules in North America in 1899, blacks were barred from holding the sport's ultimate prize, the heavyweight championship of the world. Jack Johnson was the first to break this color line in boxing in 1908, and a backlash bordering on mass hysteria on the part of whites obsessed with reclaiming what they felt to be their faltering manhood was to follow. White Americans were so threatened by the idea (one of their own creation, as we will see) that the black race might have produced the world's most powerful, virile man, that when their best hope to regain the title failed in 1910, the entire nation erupted in racial violence. Johnson had emerged as a powerful symbol of threatened white masculinity as well as the self-assertion of powerful black manhood, and with drastic consequences for many.
This thesis is not meant to be an exhaustive analysis of the symbolic power inherent in boxing, nor will it try to illustrate this power across the broad and complex span of twentieth century American racial history. What this thesis does hope to do is to trace the lives and careers of the three most consequential black heavyweight champions of the century, Jack Johnson, Joe Louis, and Muhammad Ali, as cultural icons, and to examine the interplay between their careers, their symbolic importance in the broader society, and the wider struggle for black freedom in twentieth-century American life. Following Cedric J. Robinson's delineation of a black radical tradition, but this time in the sport of boxing, I do intend to emphasize the radicalism displayed by these black boxers inside and outside the boxing ring.
Rather than asserting the existence of a black radical tradition in boxing, however, the primary aim of this thesis is to examine the ways in which these three iconic black heavyweights were appropriated by white and black Americans as symbolisms of broader social, cultural and political issues in American life as well as the ways in which each actively participated in shaping their respective historical moments. This line of inquiry converges with Frederic Cople Jaher's argument that these three boxers "reflected forces at play in the national and the international rather than in the boxing arenas," as well as Holt's assertion that "African-American sports and cultural figures constitute a kind of synecdoche for America."45 This paper will attempt to grapple with the ways in which Johnson, Louis and Ali forced whites and blacks to confront issues of race, gender, and representation.
Description:M.A. University of Hawaii at Manoa 2012.
Includes bibliographical references.
Appears in Collections: M.A. - History
M.A. - History

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