Christmas might be over, but there is still a day left to celebrate and commemorate.
I do it every Dec. 26. And no, I’m not talking about observing the first day of Kwanzaa either.
For those of you that do celebrate the seven days of Kwanzaa, an African-American tradition that comes to us courtesy of Maulana Ron Karenga of the US organization, I say have at it.
But I remember those days in 1969 when Karenga’s US organization had a dispute with the Black Panther Party. I remember all too well the events of Jan. 17, 1969.
That’s when Panthers Alprentice “Bunchy” Carter and John Jerome Huggins were fatally shot on the UCLA campus. Two members of the US organization were the triggermen.
Karenga has some serious ‘splaining to do about that incident, the US-Panther rift and whether or not two of the three US members accused of shooting Carter and Huggins were indeed FBI informants, as some have alleged.
Until he does, there’ll be no Kwanzaa celebrations for me.
No, when Dec. 26 rolls around, I celebrate the anniversary of what happened on that day in 1908, at Rushcutter’s Bay, a town just outside of Sydney, Australia.
That’s when Jack Johnson, an African-American heavyweight boxer, pummeled world champion Tommy Burns into the canvas to become the first black heavyweight champion of the world.
Yeah, I know what you’re thinking: back on Sept. 3, I celebrated the 174th anniversary of the day Frederick Douglass escaped from slavery. Now I’m celebrating the day Papa Jack Johnson knocked Tommy Burns the hell out.
“Damn, Kane,” you might be thinking, “do you REALLY celebrate this kind of stuff?”
Yes, I do. Indeed I do. Someone has to.
Douglass was the most extraordinary American of his century. (Notice I didn’t say “most extraordinary African American.”) He was one of many abolitionist leaders, black and white, that urged a reluctant President Lincoln to use black soldiers in the Civil War.
Lincoln did, and by 1864 was giving the African Americans that served the Union as soldiers, sailors, laborers, scouts and spies credit for defeating the Confederacy.
When Johnson wrested the heavyweight title from Burns, it was a time when white supremacy was ascendant throughout the world. Johnson’s victory dealt white supremacy a blow from which it never fully recovered.
Granted, there had been blows struck against white supremacy prior to Johnson’s pummeling of Burns. Toussaint Louverture of Haiti struck his when he led black slaves to victory over British, Spanish and French military forces sent against him in the late 18th century.
Jean Jacques Dessalines struck his when he drove French forces from Haiti that Napoleon had sent to re-enslave the island.
In case you’re wondering how to sniff out a bona fide white supremacist, here’s one sure test: if the person believes those French, British and Spanish expeditions were defeated by malaria or yellow fever – in other words, a bunch of darned mosquitoes – instead of the brilliant military tactics of Louverture and Dessalines and the courage of their troops, you’ve probably nailed yourself a white supremacist.
Native American leaders Crazy Horse and Totanka Yotanka, the Sitting Bull, struck their blow against white supremacy when they did in George Armstrong Custer’s Seventh Calvary in June of 1876.
Three years later, the Zulus of South Africa struck one when they wiped out a British regiment sent against them at a place called Isandlwana.
In 1896, Menelik II, emperor of Ethiopia, defeated an Italian force sent against him.
To make his blow against white supremacy, Johnson had to track down Burns, chasing him all the way to Australia before Burns would agree to a fight. (White champions avoided fighting black challengers in those days, and for good reason, as Johnson proved.)
British writer Graeme Kent, in his book “The Great White Hopes: The Quest To Defeat Jack Johnson,” wrote “the black fighter’s victory was a watershed in the history of sport. For the first time, boxing left the sports pages and was featured all over the world in major news stories on the front pages of the contemporary tabloids and broadsheets alike.
“Typical was the New York Evening Journal, which published a picture of Johnson occupying most of the front page, unprecedented coverage for a sporting personality. Caucasian supremacy had been publicly challenged and humiliated.”
Indeed it had. That’s why, every Dec. 26, I make sure to give props to Papa Jack Johnson.
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