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Boxer Jack Johnson set the standard for the twentieth century model of the dominant Black athlete. Before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in a major sport, and before the mainstream acceptance of Muhammad Ali’s remarkable flair, Johnson made it fashionable to be a rich, educated sportsman. As the first Black heavyweight champion of the world, Johnson inspired Black Americans and engendered hostility from whites. Even liberals like Jack London called for a “Great White Hope” to prove European racial superiority. Johnson’s victories were sometimes marred by race riots of angry white’s seeking revenge. As the first Black man in his current office, Barack Obama is a spiritual descendant of Jack Johnson. Obama, too, engenders the kind of jealousy and anger that Black excellence often does, in a society still plagued by insidious white supremacy.

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VIDEO: Jack Johnson career highlights.

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