The black prizefighter labored in one of the few trades where an African American man could win renown: boxing. His prowess in the ring asserted an independence and powerful masculinity rare for black men in a white-dominated society, allowing him to be a man--and thus truly free. Louis Moore draws on the life stories of African American fighters active from 1880 to 1915 to explore working-class black manhood. As he details, boxers bought into American ideas about masculinity and free enterprise to prove their equality while using their bodies to become self-made men. The African American middle class, meanwhile, grappled with an expression of public black maleness they saw related to disreputable leisure rather than respectable labor. Moore shows how each fighter conformed to middle class ideas of masculinity based on his own judgment of what culture would accept. Finally, he argues that African American success in the ring shattered the myth of black inferiority despite media and government efforts to defend white privilege.
Louis Moore is associate professor of history at Grand Valley State University. He is the author of We Will Win the Day: The Civil Rights Movement, the Black Athlete, and the Quest for Equality .