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12 January 2005

Too black for America

A City Pages article, The Baddest Man on the Planet tells the story of the immortal Jack Johnson, the most in-your-face black man in American history. The renewed interest in Jack Johnson is sparked by a new 4-hour documentary by Ken Burns which is being released this month in the US. (I have to see it!)
Johnson was many things in his life--a dandy, a braggart, a womanizer, a gambler, a drinker, a fugitive, a convict, a vaudevillian, even an inventor (he held the patent on a special wrench designed for working on racing cars, another of his passions). But he was never yellow. In the language of the day, Johnson was a "bad nigger," and he swaggered through Jim Crow America as if prejudice did not exist. In the ring, he reveled in humiliating white boxers, delaying or altogether forgoing the knockout to extend their suffering. Conversely, he often took it easy on fellow blacks.
At a time when other black men were lynched for looking at a white woman the wrong way, the Galveston-born Johnson flaunted his relationships with white women, often traveling from city to city with two or three of them in tow. Ultimately, his relationship with one "sporting woman"--as prostitutes were called--became the pretext for Johnson's arrest and conviction on a trumped-up Mann Act violation, which prohibited the transport of women across state lines for "immoral purposes."

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