Cover for Moore: I Fight for a Living: Boxing and the Battle for Black Manhood, 1880-1915. Click for larger image

I Fight for a Living

Boxing and the Battle for Black Manhood, 1880-1915

Hardworking prizefighters and the battle against a racist America

The black prizefighter labored in one of the few trades where an African American man could win renown: boxing. His prowess in the ring asserted an independence and powerful masculinity rare for black men in a white-dominated society, allowing him to be a man--and thus truly free.

Louis Moore draws on the life stories of African American fighters active from 1880 to 1915 to explore working-class black manhood. As he details, boxers bought into American ideas about masculinity and free enterprise to prove their equality while using their bodies to become self-made men. The African American middle class, meanwhile, grappled with an expression of public black maleness they saw related to disreputable leisure rather than respectable labor. Moore shows how each fighter conformed to middle-class ideas of masculinity based on his own judgment of what culture would accept. Finally, he argues that African American success in the ring shattered the myth of black inferiority despite media and government efforts to defend white privilege.

"Compelling and well researched, Louis Moore’s I Fight For a Living traces the pugilistic exploits of nineteenth century black boxers inside the ring and, equally important, their effort to navigate the local manifestations of the global color line. Moore underscores their strategic deployment of middle-class demeanor, respectability, and a version of manhood to insist on greater economic opportunity, fairer treatment, and a better life. Given its sophisticated analysis of their travels, travails, and triumphs of black boxers, I Fight For a Living is a welcomed addition to bookshelves alongside Elliot Gorn's The Manly Art, Randy Roberts's Papa Jack, and Theresa Runstedtler's Jack Johnson, Rebel Sojourner."--Adrian Burgos Jr., author of Cuban Star: How One Negro League Owner Changed the Face of Baseball

"Moore moves the reader beyond Jack Johnson by telling the stories of a generation of African Americans who labored with their fists at the beginning of the twentieth century. He weaves a narrative of migratory labor, racism, masculinity, and consumption that shaped the lives of working fighters. Although these pugilistic laborers could reach the height of fame and fortune, racism limited opportunities and financial mismanagement led to economic ruin. Moore describes how boxers such as Joe Gans tried to secure their manhood and livelihood through the ring. I Fight for a Living reminds the reader that sports and labor need to be analyzed together."--Derrick E. White, coeditor of Winning While Losing: Civil Rights, the Conservative Movement, and the Presidency from Nixon to Obama

"I Fight for a Living is an enjoyable read which makes the convincing argument that African American prizefighters posed a unique set of challenges to Jim Crow white supremacy in the years preceding World War I."--Michael Ezra, author of Muhammad Ali: The Making of an Icon

Louis Moore is an associate professor of history at Grand Valley State University. He is the author of We Will Win the Day: The Civil Rights Movement, the Black Athlete, and the Quest for Equality.

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