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Unforgivable Blackness: A Film Directed by Ken Burns

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Sparring
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Johnson's Rise

Contemporaries

Boxing Glossary

Timeline

Jack's Contemporaries In addition to Jack Johnson, the first decade of the 20th century produced three other great African-American boxers: Joe Jeanette, Sam Langford and Sam McVey. According to boxing historian Nat Fleischer, "There really wasn't a white man who could be classed with this dusky quartet." Fleischer contends this was the real reason for Jim Jeffries' retirement.

But Jeanette, Langford and McVey never had a chance to compete for the Heavyweight Championship of the World, due to the color line drawn by white boxers and Johnson's own refusal after winning the title to fight other African-Americans.

Joe Jeanette

Joe Jeanette was born in North Bergen, New Jersey on August 26, 1879. Relatively short and stocky, Jeanette stood 5 feet 10 inches and weighed 190 pounds. He reportedly began boxing on a dare at the age of 25, in an exhibition against Arthur Dickinson in Jersey City.

In his first 30 fights, Jeanette met Johnson 10 times. Jeanette won one fight on a foul after two rounds, lost twice, had two draws, and had five No Decisions. After winning the heavyweight title, Johnson refused to fight Jeanette again, despite numerous challenges.

Jeanette, like other black boxers of the day, had only a small number of prospective opponents from which to choose, and he ended up matched against the same fighters over and over. He fought Langford 15 times, McVey five times, and ""Battling" Jim Johnson seven times.

Jeanette retired from the ring in 1919 and opened a boxing gym. He died in 1958 and was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1997.

Sam McVey

Sam McVey Sam McVey was born Samuel E. MacVea in Texas, in 1884 or 1885. He had a compact but powerful physique, standing 5 feet 10 inches, and weighing about 215 pounds in his prime.

He fought Johnson three times — losing twice to Johnson for the Colored Heavyweight Championship of the World in 1903, and losing by a knockout in San Francisco the following year. In addition, he met Johnson for a six-round exhibition in Havana, two days before Johnson was to lose the heavyweight title to Jess Willard.

McVey's most memorable bout was the April 17, 1909 "fight to the finish" in Paris against arch-rival Joe Jeanette. After knocking each other down a total of 38 times, McVey was forced to quit after 49 rounds because his eyes had swollen completely shut.

In an 18-year career that spanned four continents, McVey's record included 63 wins, 15 losses, 12 draws and 2 No Contests, with 46 knockouts. McVey died in New York City on December 23, 1921. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1999.

Sam Langford

Sam Langford Sam Langford was born on March 4, 1883, in Weymouth Falls, Nova Scotia. He moved to Massachusetts as a teenager, and began his professional boxing career in Boston in 1902. Standing only 5 feet 6 inches and weighing 162 pounds, Langford frequently fought — and defeated — much larger and heavier men.

Langford only met Jack Johnson in the ring once, on April 26, 1906, in Chelsea, Massachusetts. Johnson, who outweighed Langford by 35 pounds, won easily, breaking Langford's nose and cutting his lip. Johnson said later that he had prolonged the match to 15 rounds at the request of the ring's management. Once Johnson won the heavyweight championship in 1909, he refused to give Langford a chance at the title.

After a 20-year, nearly 300-bout career, Langford retired in 1926 due to eye problems that eventually resulted in blindness. He died on January 12, 1956, in Cambridge Massachusetts. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990.