First UK publication of the acclaimed biography of the first black heavyweight world champion - and one of the most controversial black figures of the 20th century.
He was the first black heavyweight champion in history (1908–15) and the most celebrated – and most reviled – African American of his age. In Unforgivable Blackness
, prize-winning biographer Geoffrey C. Ward brings to vivid life the real Jack Johnson, a figure far more complex than the newspaper headlines could ever convey.
Johnson battled his way from obscurity to the top of the heavyweight ranks and in 1908 won the greatest prize in American sports – one that had always been the preserve of white boxers. At a time when whites ran everything in America, he took orders from no one and resolved to live as if colour did not exist. Because of this, the federal government set out to destroy him and he was forced to endure a year of prison and seven years of exile. As Ward shows, Johnson was seen as a perpetual threat to white and African Americans alike – profligate, arrogant, amoral, a dark menace and a danger to the natural order of things.
is the first full-scale biography of Johnson in more than twenty years. Accompanied by more than fifty photographs and drawing on a wealth of new material – including Johnson’s never-before-published prison memoir – it restores Jack Johnson to his rightful place in the pantheon of sporting and social warriors.
Geoffrey C. Ward won the national Book Critics Circle Award in 1989. With Ken Burns, he is co-author of The Civil War
(both published by Pimlico). He lives in New York City.
‘This remarkable book is at one and the same time a rousing story, a terrific biography, and first-rate history.With immense skill, Geoffrey Ward has not only brought Jack Johnson back to life but has provided a telling window onto what it was like to be a great black athlete in early-twentieth-century America.’,‘Geoffrey Ward’s Unforgivable Blackness
is a stunning exploration of the unbelievable bigotry of whites in early-twentieth-century America.','This compelling and exhaustively researched biography resurrects the story of a uniquely fascinating man...The authoritative biography of Johnson for sure, but also one of the best boxing books in recent memory.','A formidable accomplishment...Ward has successfully brought this deep and colourful personality, this insufficiently understood and altogether amazing man, back to life.','A significant achievement...An utterly convincing and frequently heartrending portrait of Jack Johnson for whom the ideal representation would be the Janus-face of simultaneous comedy and tragedy.','A portrait of a fascinating figure, whose oversized personality fills every page.',‘probably the finest book on the uniquely talented and horribly hounded black heavyweight champion from the early years of the 20th century…Johnson was a remarkable man… Little has changed, believe it or not’.,‘Great subject, great book….Ward shows us how the great black heavyweight champion overcame a poor education to mix successfully with the glitterati of Europe and America’.,‘Ward is a distinguished and diligent historian, and he has mined original sources to tremendous effect. The detail is dazzling… It deserves an audience far beyond fans of the ring game: I will be surprised if a better sporting biography is published in the next 12 months’.,‘a delicious detail on almost every page…Research this powerful gives Unforgivable Blackness a richness that rewards contemplative reading’,,‘Geoffrey C Ward offers a detailed and telling portrait of Johnson’s life and times’.,‘compelling biography…Johnson’s life was a chaotic tableaux of women, fights and fast cars…Ward depicts all this in gripping prose…Hats off to Ward for getting as close to the ghost as anyone will’.