Teaching About Race Through Sports: Documents from the Jack Johnson-Jim Jeffries Fight

  • John BloomEmail author


This chapter focuses upon the teaching of race during the late nineteenth/early twentieth century by focusing upon commercial culture and sports. In particular, it explores the teaching of race and American cultural history through an examination of popular media coverage of the heavyweight title fight between champion Jack Johnson, the first African American to hold the honor, and Jim Jeffries, a white challenger, on July 4, 1910. The materials documenting that famous fight provide a source of primary material for teaching about the popular ideology of white supremacy, it prevalence, and its consequences during late nineteenth and early twentieth century American history. Combined, the articles, documents, and discussion points in this unit provide students (in an advanced level cultural history class) a valuable exercise in the dynamics of racial ideology in the early twentieth century, and the role of commercial culture and sports in the articulation of these stereotypes. Students can see clearly the racial stereotypes of the era, and connect these to others that we would have discussed earlier in the semester. At the same time, however, students also learn about the complexities of racial hierarchies and ideologies. In this case, they can see how an event billed as one that would establish the legitimacy of white supremacy, and that would reassure white audiences that an expression of African American competitive violence would be contained, in fact accomplished the opposite. Instead of bolstering the racist oppression of the Jim Crow era, the Johnson-Jeffries fight served as a valuable inspiration for many African Americans who, according to sports historian Jeffrey Sammons, found in Johnson’s championship “the most satisfying event since the end of slavery.”


Cultural History Commercial Culture Racial Stereotype White Supremacy Racial Hierarchy 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Shippensburg UniversityShippensburgUSA

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