The Poetry of Boxing

On the Fourth of July 1910, two boxers met in Reno, Nevada for a world heavyweight title bout. Jim Jeffries, the first of many unsuccessful Great White Hope boxers, came out of retirement and lost to Jack Johnson, the controversial heavyweight champion who flaunted his domination over his white opponents.

Celebrations, protests, even riots erupted in twenty-five states and fifty American cities in the aftermath of the 1910 fight. Hundreds were injured. Twenty died.

Fifteen years later, in the mid-1920s, fear of  riots was one reason my character, Harry “The Black Panther” Wills, never got his shot at Jack Dempsey’s World Heavyweight Title.

Celebrated poet William Warning Cuney reflected the fight’s impact on the Black community in his poem:

MY LORD, WHAT A MORNING

Oh, my Lord
What a morning,
Oh, my Lord,
What a feeling,
When Jack Johnson
Turned Jim Jeffries’
Snow-white face
Up to the ceiling.
Yes, my Lord,
Fighting is wrong,
But what an uppercut.
Oh, my Lord,
What a morning,
Oh, my Lord
What a feeling,
When Jack Johnson
Turned Jim Jeffries’
Lily-white face
Up to the ceiling.
Oh, my Lord
What a morning,
Oh, my Lord
Take care of Jack.
Keep him, Lord
As you made him,
Big, and strong, and black.

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