Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson
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Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson

4.19 of 5 stars 4.19  ·  rating details  ·  321 ratings  ·  28 reviews
In this vivid biography Geoffrey C. Ward brings back to life the most celebrated — and the most reviled — African American of his age.

Jack Johnson battled his way out of obscurity and poverty in the Jim Crow South to win the title of heavyweight champion of the world. At a time when whites ran everything in America, he took orders from no one and resolved to live as if co...more
Paperback, 546 pages
Published January 3rd 2006 by Vintage (first published 2004)
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Rose
Nov 07, 2008 Rose rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Rick
Jack Johnson was one of the early twentieth century’s most controversial figures. He was the first black man to attain the world heavyweight championship title, an honor that had been the exclusive domain of white boxers since the sport began. His flashy personality, considerable wealth, and refusal to let his race limit his career and marital prospects belied the traditional concept of the servile, grovelling black. When Johnson beat up white men in the ring and consorted with white women in pu...more
Jill
A great book about a great man- the first black heavyweight champion of the world- a fascinating, erudite modern man. It makes no difference if you are interested in boxing-Goeffrey Ward gives a highly detailed account of society, sports, politics and good 'ol American pre-civil rights prejudice. Minus the lynchings, reminds us how little has changed today in backwoods white vs. black America (except then the hate was publicly spewed in shocking daily headlines). Because of the champion title of...more
Eric
Jan 10, 2010 Eric marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
I grew up knowing that Johnson had been a dapper man because anything sharp or tight or natty was defined as such by its likeness to "Jack Johnson's hatband." My dad is a storehouse of old southern sayings; I feel ashamed of my teenage eye-rollings.
Crease
I've often told the story of how, during the years my parents had split and I lived with my mom, she didn't raise me. She loved me, protected me, provided for me, but didn't raise me; Michael Jordan, Harold Washington (Chicago's first black mayor), Arthur Fonzarelli and Hulk Hogan raised me. As a young boy, I was wildly into my heroes, my idols...these men I looked to for "how to be a man" when my father wasn't immediately available.

Jack Johnson was all of these men rolled into one.

The first b...more
stacy
Nov 10, 2007 stacy marked it as to-read
Boxer Jack Johnson's 1914 memoir MES COMBATS (My Fights) appears at Harvard University's Widener Library....

Sure wish American audiences at large could read about his largely unknown 1911 musings to a French sports magazine, including candid observations on racism likely never intended for American readers. The comments have been translated to English in their entirety for the first time. The result, "My Life & Battles." 127-pages. But you'll have to hope train, plain or automobile to get to...more
Jacob
Jack Johnson is one of the great Self-created characters of American History. The things he did and said are the stuff of legend, and would be remarkable regardless of his race. The fact that he did these things as a black man in a time when lynchings were routine, and segregation was the norm, is incredible. The Comparison to Muhammad Ali is often made, and perhaps rightfully so, however it should not be overlooked that Johnson built HIS eccentric legend without an entourage, without television...more
Joslyn
Jul 25, 2007 Joslyn rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anybody
Shelves: recentlyread
This is a biography of Jack Johnson (the boxer) and it is a really good read. It is a tragic story, but is very reflective of the spirit it took for African-Americans to succeed in anything at that time. Although he eventually was his own downfall, you can see the chain of events that led to his demise. One thing I admired about him was that he reveled in his heritage and loved what and who he was. He never apologized for being black, which was the custom in those days, and he never tried to dow...more
David
Racial politics in turn of the 20th Century America and a supremely talented, cocksure, black heavyweight boxer who refused to play by the rules of society is a mixture that was never going to work well.

Jack Johnson spent years looking for an opportunity to reach the peak of his sport, as a succession of white heavyweights refused to step into the ring with him because of the colour of his skin.

Once he finally gained the title, his approach to life, particularly his relationships with white wom...more
Christopher Carbone
May 29, 2009 Christopher Carbone rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: sports fans
The first black heavyweight champion of the world was, for a time, the most hated man in America, drawing the color line into sharp contrast. The story of Jack Johnson is a complicated, stark one filed with contradictions and easy to hate and hard to love men and women. Overall, its the story of Jack Johnson and the way he lived his life.

The book explains in very good detail Johnson's life, how he got into boxing and how his personality exploded onto the world stage. Johnson was a crafty, sleek...more
Owen Hurd
This is a fascinating account of Jack Johnson, the first African-American heavyweight boxing champion. As a Chicagoan who's read a little bit about our city's history, I was especially drawn to the passages describing Johnson's domestic life (such as it was), the home where he put up his mother, and the club he opened in the city's red-light district, the Levee.

I was interested to learn that Johnson was arrested for violating the white slave act (Mann Act), for transporting a white woman over s...more
G.d. Brennan
Once upon a time, before Ron Artest, Latrell Sprewell, and Allen Iverson started undoing the legacy of NBA saints like Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson, before the Kobe trial and the O.J. trial and the Tyson trial, before Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised Black Power fists at the 1968 Olympics, and before Muhammad Ali refused to be drafted, there was one original Controversial Black Athlete. Like so many others, his personal life spawned as many newspaper headlines as his professional accompli...more
Patrick
Oct 17, 2008 Patrick rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: history/sports fans
Recommended to Patrick by: read a review
Simply eye opening look at racism in America through the eyes of sports.
Johnson's unforgivable sins were a: pummeling white fighters in the ring, and b: cavorting with white women outside the ring. But he was the rarest of men who simply lived his life (albeit not simply) without regard for how others saw him.
At the time I read it, Terrell Owens was in the news for doing something stupid, and the contrast between the perception and tolerance for two similar men in the span of 100 years was a fas...more
Bookmarks Magazine

Jack Johnson's colorful personality and his impact on American racial politics make him a fascinating topic for a biography. Critics were interested in this account of his extraordinary life, but many had complaints. Foremost among these was Ward's failure to provide historical analysis and context. Unforgivable Blackness doesn't ask any probing questions about Johnson's influence or his legacy; even though Ward did his research, those seeking an in-depth examination of his life will be disappoi

...more
J.B. Shearman
Reading this biography made me wonder what magnitude of celebrity Jack Johnson would have been if he were a heavyweight in today's day an era. His brash and confident personality was vilified because of his skin color but today his individualism would be celebrated. His ability to look at society and life beyond the black and white of that era was met with tons of opposition.

I'm glad I picked this book up randomly on a trip in to borders after reading the back cover because I now know about the...more
Shalon Montgomery
I am not into long books, but this was worth it. Johnson was a man who took advantage of his gifts and answered to few and he wasn't alone in his thinking and actions. The book deglorifies America but its a great book that shows the beginning of boxing, corruption of sports and the importance of sports in society.
Sebastian
A little too methodical at times (a fighter of Jack Johnson's stature, who brought his own distinct and remarkably successful approach to the ring, deserves something with a bit more style to match!), but generally speaking a very interesting look into one of the most significant and overlooked figures in American sports history.
Ron Setala
I enjoyed this book. It was not just a fight by fight account of the champion's life. It was a story about his life, his loves, his struggles and his successes. I was not aware of his involvement with Joe Louis, or how he pursued Jack Dempsey. Those two champions are next of my search of new boxing hero based biographies.
Nathan
The story of Jack Johnson has all the right elements: the racial tensions of the Schmeling-Louis fights, a hero brash and colorful as Muhammad Ali. Ward's detached and colorless narrative are made that much more disappointing, though he tries gamely and manages to end his story on a poetic, if somewhat predictable, note.
Erin
An amazing story. Jack Johnson was certainly an intriguing guy. He had a lot against him, but at the same time, didn't care what people thought to the point that he aliented himself from practially everyone. Very tragic. Definitely a long, but good read!
Mfalco65
I went through a phase where I was wholly obsessed with PBS documentaries. I picked up the book the moment I heard the documentary was forthcoming. It is a great snapshot at a man who refused to be backed into a corner.
Blake
This story is very interesting and I am wondering why it took a Ken Burns film to get a book written about it. Jack Johnson is a very dynamic person, though not the best moral compass. Great story, could almost seem like fiction.
Jay
Great book! Jack Johnson dared to live his life the way he wanted at a time when people of color were still regarded as less than. He paid a price but Jack Johnson still walked with his head held high!
Scott Finley
If Jack Johnson were alive today I think SportsCenter or Outside The Lines would have to create a new show just for him. The footnotes alone make for a pretty interesting read.
Nora
I kept going back and forth on this... The writing is good, and the story is intriguing, but somehow it just didn't hold my attention.
Doodle
May 15, 2009 Doodle added it
Jack Johnson had it rough, but I think the disrespect aimed at him for not being the legit champ would've been directed at anyone.
Jonathan
Great book! Johnson is a unique American character, particularly in the context of Jim Crow.
Neil Sammells


Essential reading for anyone interested in dandyism...
Maxo Marc
A man determined to be himself despite the cost; a must read.
Adam Madvibe
1 of my favorite books.........
Paul Mcmenamin
Paul Mcmenamin marked it as to-read
Jul 22, 2014
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Geoffrey Champion Ward is an author and screenwriter of various documentary presentations of American history. He graduated from Oberlin College in 1962.

He was an editor of American Heritage magazine early in his career. He wrote the television mini-series The Civil War with its director Ken Burns and has collaborated with Burns on every documentary he has made since, including Jazz and Baseball....more
More about Geoffrey C. Ward...
The Civil War: An Illustrated History Baseball The War: An Intimate History, 1941-1945 Mark Twain Jazz: A History of America's Music

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