In Photos: Sports and Race in America

July 1910:

Jack Johnson had become boxing’s first black heavyweight champion with a 1908 win over Tommy Burns, but many dismissed the title as hollow since previous champ James J Jeffries had walked away undefeated. That set the stage for the Fight of the Century between Johnson and Jeffries, who was coaxed out of retirement and put forth as the Great White Hope capable of restoring the natural order. Johnson had different ideas. Amid unprecedented racial tension nationwide, the flashy Galveston Giant dominated his faded opponent until Jeffries’ corner threw in the towel during the 15th round.

Photograph: Anonymous/AP

August 1936:

Jesse Owens, center, on top of the podium for the long jump – one of his four golds at the 1936 Olympics – as Germany’s Lutz Long, right, gives the Nazi salute. Owens’s victories are seen as a blow to the Nazi myth of white supremacy, although America was rife with racism of its own at the time and Owens found it hard to find work on his return home.

Photograph: Associated Press

April 1947:

Jackie Robinson becomes the first black player to appear in the majors in baseball’s modern era. Robinson went on to make baseball’s hall of fame although he suffered discrimination from fans, teammates and opponents.

Photograph: Bettmann/Bettmann Archive

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