Many people came to Goldfield, Nevada, America’s last gold-rush town, to seek their fortune. However, on a searing summer day in September 1906, they came not to strike it rich but to watch what would become the longest boxing match of the twentieth century—between Joe Gans, the first African American boxing champion, and “Battling” Nelson, a vicious and dirty brawler. It was a match billed as the battle of the races.
In The Longest Fight, the longtime Washington Post sports correspondent William Gildea tells the story of this epic match, which would stretch to forty-two rounds and last two hours and forty-eight minutes. A new rail line brought spectators from around the country, dozens of reporters came to file blow-by-blow accounts, and an entrepreneurial crew’s film of the fight, shown in theaters shortly afterward, endures to this day.
The Longest Fight also recounts something much greater—the longer battle that Gans fought against prejudice as the premier black athlete of his time. It is a portrait of life in black America at the turn of the twentieth century, of what it was like to be the first black athlete to successfully cross the nation’s gaping racial divide. Gans was smart, witty, trim, and handsome—with one-punch knockout power and groundbreaking defensive skills—and his courage despite discrimination prefigured the strife faced by many of America’s finest athletes, including Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson, and Muhammad Ali.
Inside the ring and out, Gans took the first steps for the African American athletes who would follow, and yet his role in history was largely forgotten until now. The Longest Fight is a reminder of the damage caused by the bigotry that long outlived Gans, and the strength, courage, and will of those who fought to rise above.
About William Gildea
William Gildea was a writer for The Washington Post from 1965 through 2005. He has covered the Olympic Games (four times), the World Cup (four times), and about fifty championship or major fights, principally in Las Vegas. Many of his pieces have appeared in Best Sports Stories and The Best American Sports Writing. He lives in Bethesda, Maryland, with his wife, Mary Fran.
Gildea (Where the Game Matters Most: A Last Championship Season in Indiana High School Basketball, 1997, etc.), who wrote for the Washington Post for 40 years, begins and ends with the flickering footage of the fight now residing in the Library of Congress. The author devotes more than half of the text to an account of the fight with Oscar “Battling” Nelson in Goldfield, Nev., though he continually cuts away to tell about Gans’ background, his several wives, the era’s virulent racism, other fights and fighters, the history of Goldfield and numerous other asides intended both to provide context and increase suspense. Nelson emerges as a particularly crude specimen, so much so that the huge crowd—virtually all white—rooted enthusiastically for Gans and offered no protests when the referee awarded the victory to Gans because of a low blow; Nelson had been head-butting and committing other fouls throughout. (His gutter racism outside the ring was no improvement.) Whites in the East and South promptly terrorized blacks. The final section deals with Gans’ post-fight celebrity and wealth and with his intransigent refusal to retire, even while tuberculosis was ravaging his body. The final scenes—the fading Gans trying to get home from Arizona to die—are moving. Writers Rex Beach and Jack London have cameos, as do other notables, and the author wonders if George Bellows might have used Gans as the model for the black fighter in Both Members of This Club. – Kirkus Reviews
Rediscovering A Forgotten Boxer’s ‘Longest Fight’
NPR Book Review – June 16, 2012 (Excerpt)
Just a couple of years before boxer Jack Johnson was lauded, reviled, and hounded as the world heavyweight champ — and decades before Muhammad Ali lost his title when he took a stand on Vietnam — a man named Joe Gans was the lightweight champion of the world. He reigned from 1902 to 1908 as the first African-American boxing champ in history, and a man who broke trails for the great fighters who followed.
William Gildea, a longtime sportswriter for the Washington Post, uncovers some of the Gans story in a new book, calledThe Longest Fight: In the Ring With Joe Gans, Boxing’s First African-American Champion.
Gildea builds the book around that fight: a hot, brutal bout in September 1906 when Gans defended his title against a white boxer named Oscar “Battling” Nelson. They fought a jaw-dropping 42 rounds in the scorching, unshaded heat of Nevada mining town called Goldfield.
“This was a fight by the Queensberry Rules,” Gildea says, “which essentially meant that they would fight with gloves, and they would fight three-minute rounds, and there would be a minute between rounds.” But it was also a fight to the finish: it would go until one fighter could go no longer. “There hasn’t been any fight of that length since then,” Gildea says. Gans prevailed after close to three hours in the ring; the judges didn’t like Nelson’s repeated low blows. Boxing commissioners eventually banned fights to the finish, and championship fights today are generally limited to 12 rounds. [Read the full article...]
“The Longest Fight: In the Ring with Joe Gans, Boxing’s First African American Champion” by William Gildea
The Washington Post Book Review – July 21, 2012 (Excerpt)
The boxer Joe Gans is largely forgotten today. Mild-mannered, he lacked the boisterous charisma of Jack Johnson or Muhammad Ali. But from 1902 to 1908, he was the world lightweight king, America’s first black boxing champion.
In 1906, in the 100-degree fug of the southern Nevada desert, he took on Oscar “Battling” Nelson in a legendary 42-round fight, two hours and 48 minutes, the longest bout of the 20th century. The match and Gans’s story are the subject of “The Longest Fight,” a gem of a book by former Washington Post sports columnist William Gildea.
In lean prose, Gildea gives us a blow-by-blow account of Gans’s career. He pivots from describing the fight to exploring his subject’s life to examining the racism of the age and the contradictions of “sportsmanship” that belittled blacks while making money off them.
Despite what the white sportswriters and cartoonists of the time had to say about it, Gans was one of the smartest athletes ever. “A timeline of outstanding thinkers in American sports,” Gildea writes, “could extend back from Tiger Woods . . . to, say, Muhammad Ali and Arthur Ashe and Bill Bradley and Bill Russell and Ted Williams and Jackie Robinson and Gene Tunney and, drawn far enough, to Joe Gans.” [Read the full article...]
THE LONDONDERRY AIR
Testament of an Ulster Gunman A Novel by Garrad Gawler
It all changed for Charles Cunningham, a Physics teacher at the local College of Technology in the County Derry town of Maddenstown, on a June afternoon in 1973 when a bomb exploded in his neighborhood. He answers an advertisement by the UDR, the Ulster Defence Regiment, but, in the time to come, he will experience the consequences of his decisions, and how his involvement complicates matters with family and friends, Protestants and Catholics alike, to an unexpected degree.
With “The Londonderry Air – Testament of an Ulster Gunman” Garrad Gawler describes in minute detail and with an astonishing level of authenticity not only the inner workings of the Ulster Defence Regiment, but also the activities of underground paramilitary groups of regular citizens who planned and carried out the assassination of suspected Republican terrorists in their neighborhood.
We are the only country that makes guns, including military-style assault weapons, available to anyone who wants to buy them. This is not freedom. It is a tyranny of death and destruction — a tyranny of which the National Rifle Association is proud. The Washington Post
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