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Boxing In The Shadows
By Tony McClean
Updated: April 30, 2007
NEW HAVEN, Ct. — Over the many years of athletics in America and around the world, the black athlete arguably has been the most innovative and the most imitated entity in all of sports.
In fact, the true history of sports cannot be written without the many contributions made by black athletes, whether it be on or off the field. One sport in particular, professional boxing, has seen several blacks start with humble beginnings only to go on and transcend the sport itself.
Figures like Jack Johnson, Joe Louis, and Muhammad Ali readily come to mind when speaking on that. But before them, there were men like Peter Jackson, Joseph Gans, and George Dixon who paved the way for those great champions.
In his book, “Boxing In The Shadows” author and one of BASN’s boxing writers, Tom Donelson tells the story of many great black fighters and their times from the pre-1900 years up to the present.
From past fighters like Sam Langford to contemporaries like Bernard Hopkins, Donelson puts these fighters’ accomplishments within the the context of the era and or eras that they fought in.
“We have talked about boxing being the red light district of sports but yet, this sport proved to be the most progressive when it came to allowing African-Americans to compete with the best white athletes and even become champions long before other sports”, Donelson said.
“Fighters like George Dixon, Joseph Gans, Jack Johnson , Henry Armstrong and Joe Louis were champions long before Jackie Robinson ever stepped on a major league baseball diamond.”
The book is divided into five major parts, but it maintains two major themes within those parts. First, the accounts of the great skills that these men possessed. And secondly, the conditions in which they lived and competed in.
Among the many subjects discussed are Jack Johnson’s reign as the heavyweight champion and the blatant racism he faced. Another subject is how Joe Louis and his opposite persona to Johnson’s briefly changed the way black fighter were perceived (and or misperceived) by the press.
“Joe Louis was probably the first African American athlete to cross that racial barrier in popularity among whites and blacks”, Donelson added. “When he fought Max Schmeling for the second time, the nation became color blind”.
While all-time greats like Sugar Ray Robinson, Archie Moore, and Henry Armstrong are mentioned, Donelson also gives equal time to some of the lesser known, but outstanding fighters of various eras.
You may not have heard of fighters such as George Godfrey, Charley Burley, Eddie Machen, or Harry Wills, but all of them made solid contributions to the overall history of great black fighters.
“Boxing In The Shadows” gives the reader a lesson in boxing history and American history as well. While the premise of the book is on the “sweet science”, it also demonstrates how the sport was influenced by these great black athletes from today and yesterday.
This is a book that even non-sport fans and non-boxing fans alike can thoroughly enjoy.