It was quite an honor to be a part of the Johnson-Jeffries Centennial Celebration in Reno, Nevada, where boxers, commentators, writers, fight fans and descendants of Jack Johnson and Jim Jeffries, among others, congregated to look back at the “Fight of the Century” and its impact on American culture.
A century before, Jeffries’s corner men rebuffed heavyweight champion Johnson when he sought to shake his vanquished opponent’s hand, but the fighters’ relatives happily embraced at the gala emceed by announcers Al Bernstein and Rich Marotta at the Grand Sierra Resort on Friday, July 2. Wayne Rozen, author of America on the Ropes: A Pictorial History of the Johnson-Jeffries Fight (who also wrote about the fight’s anniversary for the New York Times), gave a great multimedia presentation. Super middleweight champion Andre Ward and referee Kenny Bayless were among those gathered in the Grand Theatre, where bouts were held the following night.
The good people at Our Story Inc. organized events for Independence Day weekend and throughout the month of July. I delivered a talk called “Jack Johnson’s Fourth of July” at the Bethel African American Cultural Center on July 3, after which I signed copies of Fighters & Writers. George Kimball, author of Four Kings, also spoke. The organization has scheduled screenings of the documentaries Unforgivable Blackness and No Neutral Corner as well as exhibits of archival photographs, boxing memorabilia and paintings by Demetrice Dalton, Ed Shepherd and other artists.
Approximately one hundred people stood under the high desert sun on the Fourth to witness a ceremonial bell ringing at the original fight site on the corner of Fourth Street and Toano, after which a party was held at the spot where Johnson trained and where Tim and Joan Elam now tend an enchanting garden.
For my wife and me, the weekend wasn’t only about boxing. It also included an excursion with Reno Gazette-Journal reporter Geralda Miller to Virginia City, where historian Guy Rocha showed us the sights and we watched the Independence Day parade.