Reno group plans celebration of historic boxing match
RENO (AP) – The 100th anniversary of the legendary heavyweight title fight between African-American champion Jack Johnson and “white hope” James Jeffries in Reno on July 4, 1910, is fast approaching and a group of boxing enthusiasts is planning a multi-day celebration to commemorate the event.
“It’s going to be very cool,” said boxing historian Gary Schultz, who is organizing the celebration with Terry Lane of Let’s Get It On Promotions and Mike Martino of USA Boxing.
Among the events being planned are a gala “Jack Johnson Pardon Dinner,” showings of the fight film, tours of the fight site and training camps, appearances by past heavyweight champions and live boxing.
Lane, the son of longtime boxing referee and former Washoe District Judge Mills Lane, said he’s hoping the live boxing will be a world championship fight.
“We just hope we can do a co-promotion with Top Rank and make a nice title fight,” he said. “We’ve been throwing some ideas around and we’re talking about some big names here, so we hope it all works out.”
Schultz said the group is trying to get President Barack Obama to come to Reno to sign a presidential pardon for Johnson, who was imprisoned because of his romantic ties with a white woman.
Schultz, Lane and Martino recently met with a representative of U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to ask for help in obtaining Obama’s participation.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives passed a resolution urging a presidential pardon for Johnson. The resolution was sponsored by U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and U.S. Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y.
“Jack Johnson is a trailblazer and a legend, whose boxing career was cut short due to unjust laws and racial persecution,” King said when the resolution passed the House in June. “I urge the president to do the right thing and take the final step and grant his pardon.”
Guy Rocha, the retired Nevada state archivist, called the Johnson-Jeffries fight one of the most important events in Nevada history and in the nation’s history in terms of race relations.
“It was bigger than a sporting event,” said Rocha, who led the effort to find the exact site of the fight and place a historical marker there. “It was a litmus test in race relations. It focused this country and a lot of the world on this whole issue.
“And it happened in Reno. The whole world was watching. On that day, there was no bigger story in the world than who is going to win that fight.”
The fight was not intended to be in Reno. It had been scheduled for San Francisco, but a few weeks before it was to happen, California Gov. James Gillett said he would not allow it. Promoter Tex Rickard scrambled to find a new location and quickly settled on Reno because of its railroad service.
Training camps were moved hastily to Reno with Jeffries setting up camp at Moana Springs in south Reno and Johnson at Rick’s Resort off present-day Mayberry Drive.
A 20,000-seat stadium was constructed off East Fourth Street. Reno more than doubled in population as fans from around the country and as far away as Australia descended upon the town.
Rickard, a former Goldfield saloon owner, acted as the referee in the bout.
Johnson, the brash champion, won the fight easily over the former champion Jeffries, who had been lured out of retirement by people eager to return the heavyweight title to the white race.
Johnson’s victory sparked race riots around the country. In 1913, Johnson was convicted of violating the Mann Act, a law that made it a crime to transport women across state lines for “immoral purposes.” Johnson often traveled in the company of white women.
After initially fleeing the country, he was confined in the federal penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kan., where the warden was former Nevada Gov. Denver Dickerson, who had permitted the 1910 fight to take place in Reno.
Efforts have been under way for years for Johnson to receive a presidential pardon. Rocha said he would love to see the pardon happen in Reno during the 100th anniversary celebration for the fight.
“What can happen here next year is to right a wrong, a great injustice, a black mark in American history,” he said. “That event was Reno’s event. Hopefully, after this celebration, a lot of people in the country will know what happened in Reno.”