Jack Johnson, Rebel Sojourner

By Theresa Runstedtler

Jack Johnson, Rebel Sojourner is a groundbreaking achievement”  –David Levering Lewis, Pulitzer Prize-winning Author of W. E. B. Du Bois, 1868-1919: Biography of a Race

Winner of the 2013 Phillis Wheatley Book Prize from the Northeast Black Studies Association

“I thought Muhammad Ali touched the world community like no other, but [Jack] Johnson did likewise.” — Leland Stein III, Michigan Chronicle, 26 June 2005

Before there was Muhammad Ali, there was the man he liked to call “Papa Jack.” “I grew to love the Jack Johnson image,” Ali once explained. “I wanted to be rough, tough, arrogant, the nigger white folks didn’t like.”

In his day, Jack Johnson—born in Texas in 1878, the son of former slaves—was the most famous black man on the planet. As the first-ever African American World Heavyweight Champion (1908-1915), he publicly challenged white supremacy at home and abroad. Johnson enjoyed the same audacious lifestyle of conspicuous consumption, masculine bravado, and interracial love wherever he traveled.

Jack Johnson, Rebel Sojourner provides the first in-depth exploration of Johnson’s battles against the color line in places as far-flung as Sydney, London, Cape Town, Paris, Havana, and Mexico City. In relating this dramatic story, Theresa Runstedtler constructs a groundbreaking global history of race, gender, and empire in the early twentieth century.

Through extensive archival research, Runstedtler unearths Johnson’s buried legacy as a black diasporic hero who inspired race pride and anticolonial consciousness in ordinary people of color around the world. Johnson’s ring success also sparked international calls for a “Great White Hope” and greater white solidarity.

This masterful retelling of Johnson’s remarkable life and the imperial world he inhabited poses a striking challenge to the nationalistic notions of colorblindness and post-racial triumph that have gained mainstream acceptance throughout North America and Europe in recent years.

Listen to Theresa on the Leonard Lopate Show

Read the first chapter of Jack Johnson, Rebel Sojourner