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The Longest Fight: In the Ring with Joe Gans, Boxing's First African American Champion
Synopses & Reviews
Many people came to Goldfield, Nevada, Americas last gold-rush town, to seek their fortune. However, on a searing summer day in September 1906, they came not to strike it rich but to watch what would become the longest boxing match of the twentieth century—between Joe Gans, the first African American boxing champion, and “Battling” Nelson, a vicious and dirty brawler. It was a match billed as the battle of the races.
In The Longest Fight, the longtime Washington Post sports correspondent William Gildea tells the story of this epic match, which would stretch to forty-two rounds and last two hours and forty-eight minutes. A new rail line brought spectators from around the country, dozens of reporters came to file blow-by-blow accounts, and an entrepreneurial crews film of the fight, shown in theaters shortly afterward, endures to this day.
The Longest Fight also recounts something much greater—the longer battle that Gans fought against prejudice as the premier black athlete of his time. It is a portrait of life in black America at the turn of the twentieth century, of what it was like to be the first black athlete to successfully cross the nations gaping racial divide. Gans was smart, witty, trim, and handsome—with one-punch knockout power and groundbreaking defensive skills—and his courage despite discrimination prefigured the strife faced by many of Americas finest athletes, including Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson, and Muhammad Ali.
Inside the ring and out, Gans took the first steps for the African American athletes who would follow, and yet his role in history was largely forgotten until now. The Longest Fight is a reminder of the damage caused by the bigotry that long outlived Gans, and the strength, courage, and will of those who fought to rise above.
The dramatic, little-known story of a fascinating early African-American sports hero
Joe Gans was the welterweight champion of the world—smart, trim, handsome, with a revered right hook. He was the first black man in Baltimore to own a car, and the saloon he owned was the first place in the city where blacks and whites mingled socially. And yet Gans—as interesting a sports hero as America has produced—is largely unknown today. The Longest Fight will change that.
The book centers on an epic boxing match held in September 1906 in Goldfield, Nevada: Gans versus the racist fighter Oscar “Battling” Nelson, who was known to bite opponents. The promoter, the young Tex Rickard, played up the fight as a race war. A new rail line brought tens of thousands of spectators from San Francisco. Dozens of reporters came to file blow-by-blow accounts to their home cities. And a pair of entrepreneurs filmed the fight to show in theaters, closed-circuit style.
William Gildea uses Ganss achievements to give us a deeply affecting account of what it was like to be an African-American sports champion in the early twentieth century. And through it all Gans was a man of wit, style, and courage—an unforgettable precursor to Satchel Paige, Jim Thorpe, Jesse Owens, and Jackie Robinson.
About the Author
William Gildea was a writer for The Washington Post from 1965 through 2005. He has covered the Olympic Games (four times), the World Cup (four times), and about fifty championship or major fights, principally in Las Vegas. Many of his pieces have appeared in Best Sports Stories and The Best American Sports Writing. He lives in Bethesda, Maryland, with his wife, Mary Fran.
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