What is it that makes Johnny Hudgins and Jack Johnson Harlem Renaissance men?
Join Robert O’Meally, Zora Neale Hurston Professor of English and Comparative Literature and Founder and Director of Columbia University’s Jazz Center for the second of this two-part series exploring the lives of Harlem Renaissance trailblazers.
Please note: This is a virtual event.
What kind of Harlem Renaissance man was this! Embarrassment to certain proper Black Americans, then and now, soaring hero to many others, Jack Johnson embodied an unruly black cosmopolitanism that helped define a Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s whose momentum extends into 2020 and beyond.
Many people living during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, including many Harlemites themselves of that era, never heard of Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Aaron Douglas—or any of that magical time’s leading literary/cultural lights. But the fame of John Arthur “Jack” Johnson (1878-1946) circled the globe. Readers and nonreaders alike throughout the Harlem and Southern Roads of the Black Diaspora, and far beyond, knew the name Jack Johnson, first black heavyweight boxing champion of the world. He was not your shy and modest champ, proving himself a credit to the race. Instead Mr. Jack was a dancing master and witty trash-talker inside the ring and out, playboy among the races, flamboyant lover of cars and clothes, international traveler daring white heavyweights (or anybody else) to take him on. Badman Jack whose knockout punches were heard around the world, who caused riots across the States. It took an act of Congress to curb (somewhat) the “unforgivable blackness” of this Texas Jack, who set the stage for Muhammad Ali and for the highly political sports men and women of our time.
This presentation will review Johnson’s history as well as some of the many works of art it has inspired, particularly in painting and music. Highlights will include samples from Miles Davis’s “Tribute to Jack Johnson” and Wynton Marsalis’s soundtrack to the documentary about the boxer’s life.