Winner, 2022 NASSH Book Award (Monograph)
On September 6, 1892, a diminutive Black prizefighter brutally dispatched an overmatched white hope in the New Orleans Carnival of Champions boxing tournament. That victory sparked celebrations across Black communities nationwide but fostered unease among sporting fans and officials, delaying public acceptance of mixed-race fighting for half a century. This turn echoed the nation’s disintegrating relations between whites and Blacks and foreshadowed America’s embrace of racial segregation.
In this work of sporting and social history we have a biography of Canadian-born, Boston-raised boxer George Dixon (1870–1908), the first Black world champion of any sport and the first Black world boxing champion in any division. George Dixon: The Short Life of Boxing’s First Black World Champion, 1870–1908 chronicles the life of the most consequential Black athlete of the nineteenth century and details for the first time his Carnival appearance, perhaps the most significant bout involving a Black fighter until Jack Johnson began his reign in 1908. Yet despite his triumphs, Dixon has been lost to history, overshadowed by Black athletes whose activism against white supremacy far exceeded his own.
George Dixon reveals the story of a man trapped between the white world he served and the Black world that worshipped him. By ceding control to a manipulative white promoter, Dixon was steered through the white power structure of Gilded Age prizefighting, becoming world famous and one of North America’s richest Black men. Unable to hold on to his wealth, however, and battered by his vices, a depleted Dixon was abandoned by his white supporters just as the rising tide of Jim Crow limited both his prospects and the freedom of Blacks nationwide.
Maarten Van Bottenburg asserts that a hidden competition of social and international relations, rather than the particular qualities of a given sport, explains who plays what sport and why. Looking at Britain, Germany, the United States, and Japan, Van Bottenburg discusses how individual sports developed, what institutions and groups spread them to other nations, and why certain sports and not others found an international audience. As he shows, the nature of the relationship between the country of origin and the adopting country help determine how successfully a sport takes hold and to what degree new practitioners modify it. Other key factors include which groups dominated and promoted the various sports in their countries of origin, which groups appropriated them elsewhere, and the latter's positions within their society's class structure.
In this impressive book, Barbara Keys offers the first major study of the political and cultural ramifications of international sports competitions in the decades before World War II. She examines the transformation of events like the Olympic Games and the World Cup from relatively small-scale events to the expensive, celebrity-packed, politically resonant, globally popular entertainment extravaganzas familiar to us today. Focusing on the United States, Nazi Germany, and the Soviet Union, she details how countries of widely varying ideologies were drawn to participate in the emerging global culture. She tells of Hollywood and Coca-Cola jazzing up the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, of Hitler crowing over the 1936 Berlin games, and of the battle between democracy and dictatorship in the famed boxing matches between Joe Louis and Max Schmeling. Keys also presents one of the best accounts to date of the Soviet relationship to Western sports before the rise of the “big red sports machine.”While international sport could be manipulated for nationalist purposes, it was also a vehicle for values—such as individualism and universalism—that subverted nationalist ideologies. The 1930s were thus a decade not just of conflict but of cultural integration, which laid a foundation for the postwar growth of international ties.
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