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Geoffrey C. Ward

Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson

Alfred A. Knopf

2005 Nonfiction

Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson
Johnson rose from poverty in Galveston, Texas, to become the first black heavyweight-boxing champion only to end up ruined by his affairs with white women, which landed him in prison on trumped-up charges of “white slavery.” This compelling and exhaustively researched biography resurrects the story of a uniquely fascinating man. Ward draws mostly on contemporary newspapers (both black and white), drawing us into a time when most every white-owned newspaper in the country was unabashedly racist in its descriptions of and assumptions about African Americans.

The racism of early-twentieth-century Europe and America is inextricably intertwined with Johnson’s story, so much so that deadly race riots broke out throughout the country after Johnson’s pummeling of Great White Hope Jim Jeffries. Ward brings us back into Johnson’s life and times with exquisitely rendered details, and the fight scenes themselves are gripping: fights so bloody that referees have to change shirts midbout, for instance, and a manager who pulls a gun on his fighter to keep him from quitting. The authoritative biography of Johnson for sure, but also one of the best boxing books in recent memory.

Geoffrey C. Ward, an historian, screen-writer and former editor of American Heritage, is the author of 14 books, including A First-Class Temperament: The Emergence of Franklin Roosevelt, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1989 and the 1990 Francis Parkman Prize of the Society of American Historians. With Ken Burns and Florentine Films, he has written or co-written 15 documentary films for broadcast on PBS, including The Civil War, Baseball and The West. His additional television credits include Nixon, Lindbergh, Reminiscing in Tempo and The Kennedys, all written for the American Experience. Ward is currently working on a seven-part series, The War, about the American experience in World War II and is collaborating with Wynton Marsalis on a book, Moving to Higher Ground: How Jazz Can Change Your Life. A native of Newark, Ohio, he earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in Studio Art from Oberlin College. Ward resides in New York City.



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Blog Posts about Geoffrey C. Ward

Tom Hanks And Ken Burns Team Up To Produce Jack Johnson Miniseries

Jack Johnson, arguably one of the best heavyweight boxers to ever enter the sport, is about to have his story told on the small screen for the second time. The same man—Ken Burns—will be at the helm of both films. Tom Hanks' Playtone Productions production company will be joining Burns for the effort.  Burns' first film, Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson, was based on Geoffrey C. Ward's book of the same name. (It also won the Anisfield-Wolf award in 2005.) In it, they profiled Johnson's undeniable talent amidst the... Read More →

NEW ON THE BOOKSHELF: Geoffrey C. Ward's "A Disposition To Be Rich"

2005 winner Geoffrey C. Ward's latest book covers familiar ground—history—but also gives readers insight into his family history. The book is titled, A Disposition to be Rich: How a Small-Town Pastor's Son Ruined an American President, Brought on a Wall Street Crash, and Made Himself the Best-Hated Man in the United States (quite a mouthful!). The focus of the story is on the life of Ferdinand Ward, Geoffrey's great-grandfather—the Bernie Madoff of the late 19th century.  The New York Times writes:  Geoffrey Ward cuts his... Read More →

VIDEO: The Rise And Fall Of Jack Johnson

Geoffrey C. Ward In Geoffrey C. Ward's Unforgivable Blackness: Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson, we are treated to a front row seat to the racism and prejudice that tormented the man who was one of the best boxers the sport has ever known. We honored Ward with the 2005 award for nonfiction for his gripping account of what happens when your talent is outshadowed by the color of your skin and the times you live in. In 2005, Ken Burns and Geoffrey C. Ward teamed up to produce a documentary on Johnson's life, which can be seen in its entirety below. Click here for a... Read More →

Anisfield-Wolf Guide To Black History Month

Black History Month is but one period out of the year where we focus on the accomplishments and contributions of those of the African Diaspora. We believe that the world is a richer place when we celebrate our rich cultural diversity, as evidenced by our dedication to selecting books that contribute to the dialogue. It's hard for us to select our favorite books out of the Anisfield-Wolf library, so instead we will choose books that give great insight into the triumphs and challenges of African Americans. Share this list with your colleagues,... Read More →
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