100 years ago to day, Jack Johnson beat Jim Jeffries in Reno, NV in what was correctly referred to as the fight of the century.
Jeffries was arguably the best fighter of his era. He retired as heavyweight champion. At the same time, Jack Johnson was winning every fight he was in. He wanted the title for himself. Problem was: Johnson was black and Jeffries was white. Blacks were not allowed into the nation's boxing mainstream.
Johnson was definitely the better fighter on this day. But the story goes much deeper. This was a battle between the races. To most, the blacks were inferior and could not compete at the white man's level. The thought of even allowing it was preposterous to many.
Johnson was a catalyst for this confrontation for many reasons. The primary one was his affinity for white women (and their affinity toward him). His miscegenation practice was difficult for whites and blacks alike.
In the aftermath of the fight, riots broke out in many American cities. The whites did not like seeing the blacks celebrating the victory. To them, the blacks were throwing it in their face -- the bad loser/bad winner syndrome.
Jack Johnson did many things in his shortened life. But to me, he will be remembered for his efforts to break down the color barrier.
For further information, Ken Burns' documentary, Unforgivable Blackness, is a great film (albeit 3.5 hours).