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The Johnson-Jeffries Fight and Censorship of Black Supremacy

Barak Orbach

University of Arizona

July 22, 2010

NYU Journal of Law & Liberty, Vol. 8, p. 270, 2010
Arizona Legal Studies Discussion Paper No 10-09

In April 2010, the Supreme Court handed down its decision in United States v. Stevens, in which the Court struck down a federal law that banned the depiction of conduct that was illegal in any state. Exactly one hundred years earlier, without any federal law, censorship of conduct illegal under state law and socially condemned mushroomed in most towns and cities across the country. In the summer of 1910, states and municipalities adopted bans on prizefight films in order to censor black supremacy in controversial sport that was illegal in most states. It was one of the worst waves of movie censorship in American history, but it has been largely ignored and forgotten. On the Fourth of July, 1910, the uncompromising black heavyweight champion, Jack Johnson, knocked out the “great white hope,” Jim Jeffries, in what was dubbed by the press and promoters as “the fight of the century.” Jeffries, a former heavyweight champion himself, returned to the ring after a five-year retirement to try to reclaim the heavyweight championship for the white race. He failed. The knock out that sent the great white hope down to the floor shook the nation, prompted deadly racial riots, and induced one of the most disturbing waves of movie censorship in American history. This Article brings to light the story of a national movement to censor black supremacy, a movement that had significant success. The Article is a tribute to Jack Johnson and should serve as a contemporary warning about the risks and threats of content regulation, with lessons to the controversy over “community standards” in censorship.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 78

Keywords: Jack Johnson, Jim Jeffries, Boxing, Prizefighting, Motion Picture Industry, Censorship, Black Supremacy, Race

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Date posted: March 5, 2010 ; Last revised: July 25, 2010

Suggested Citation

Orbach, Barak, The Johnson-Jeffries Fight and Censorship of Black Supremacy (July 22, 2010). NYU Journal of Law & Liberty, Vol. 8, p. 270, 2010; Arizona Legal Studies Discussion Paper No 10-09. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1563863

Contact Information

Barak Orbach (Contact Author)
University of Arizona ( email )
1201 E. Speedway Blvd.
Tuscon, AZ 85721-0176
United States
520-626-7256 (Phone)
520.858.0025 (Fax)
HOME PAGE: http://www.orbach.org

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