The sixth finger: Jack Johnson, Muhammad Ali, and the unconscious race hero in sports

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ETD Collection for AUC Robert W. Woodruff Library

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Wood, Augustus Clark, III
DigitalCommons@Robert W. Woodruff Library, Atlanta University Center
thesis / dissertation description
This study examines both the mentality of black race heroes in American sporting history and the surrounding atmospheric influences on personality, mentality, masculinity, and global perspective on said heroes, using the case studies of iconic boxers Jack Johnson and Muhammad Au as the primary focus. This study was based on the premise that both boxers initiated a conscious effort of racial pride, black agency, and global hegemony through their consistent success both inside and outside the ring. The researcher found that in almost blind adoration, African Americans chose two unconscious, self-righteous, and raceless blacks who utilized their gifted abilities as boxers to only capture full masculinity in the forms of wealth and power. In response to their considerable inferior treatment at the hands of the majority, blacks actively sought dominant representations of success and defiance of the norms to carry their dreams of black pride. However, both Jack Johnson and Muhammad Ali repeatedly rejected their anointed statuses of “race men” for the chance at true wealth and power in the commercialization and exploitation of their masculinity. In addition, the background environments of both figures are essential to the true analysis of the mentality and perception of the boxers. The conclusions drawn from the finding suggest that both individuals rejected their hometown communities’ ideals of agency and activism and instead opted to embrace the more lucrative ideals of independence (Johnson and Galveston) and interdependence (Ali and Louisville). As the black community witnessed both Jack Johnson and Muhammad Au continuously thrive and capture success in a predominantly white and commercial environment, they also saw the potential to showcase the greatest aspects of the American black race not just nationally, but also globally to other black groups. Therefore, race consciousness would both intensify and spread if powerful, masculine icons continued to dominate in societal contests like sports. Because of these desires, blacks across the nation supplied insurmountable support and sustenance to these figures throughout their careers. In fact, to most blacks throughout the nation, both pugilists possessed superhuman qualities, or a “sixth finger.” As the twenty first century thrives, blacks continue the practice of selecting sporting representatives of the race to showcase dominance in athletics, society, and unconscious racial pride.