Jack Johnson was the world’s first Black heavyweight champion. His life is examined in Last on His Feet: Jack Johnson and the Battle of the Century with art by Youssef Daoudi and poetics by Adrian Matejka.
Last on His Feet tells the story of the Battle of the Century: the fight between Jack Johnson and Jim Jeffries. On July 4, 1910 in Reno, Nevada, Jack Johnson, the world’s first Black heavyweight champion, was preparing to fight Jim Jeffries, a former white heavyweight champion. Why was this called the Battle of the Century? Well, that’s ‘simple’: race. Because of his race, Johnson was the most infamous athlete in the world. The public saw his as a brute beating up people to take what was theirs. Jim Jeffries, on the other hand, was known as ‘the great white hope’. Their battle was going to be legendary.
Johnson’s journey to convince Jeffries to fight took years. He had to chase Jeffries across the globe, trying to get Jeffries to just fight him already. You see, Jeffries was already retired by the time he agreed to fight. Their battle happened at the peak of the Jim Crow era. For weeks leading up to the fight, the public was hollering for Johnson’s blood. The day of, spectators didn’t hold back while hurling insults at Johnson. They were desperate for order to be restored in the world of boxing. Many believed that Johnson had upset the racial hierarchy and that the only way for it to be restored was by Jeffries beating him like he had beaten everyone else.
Last on His Feet also chronicles Johnson’s life before he started boxing, what happened in his personal life while he was boxing, and what he did in the years after the Battle of the Century. This book covers a wide range of years, but all is necessary to understand Johnson’s motivations. It is important to note that this graphic portrait of Jack Johnson may be based on real events, but the author has made some minor changes to locations and dates. At the end of the book, the author has included a timeline of the actual events.