Gumby's People > Jack Johnson
Jack Johnson became the first black heavyweight boxing world champion when he defeated Canadian Tommy Burns in 1908 after years of trying to induce white champions to fight him. Leading up to that fight, Johnson's easy dispatch of those fighters who would box with him combined with his public and vocal refusals to accept such racist ostracism to make him an icon of opposition to Jim Crow culture in the US and throughout the world. Johnson's 1910 defeat of James J. Jeffries--one of those former champions who until then refused to fight a black man--in what was known as "The Battle of the Century" set off riots throughout the US as some white Americans sought retaliation for Jeffries' loss while many African Americans celebrated Johnson's victory.
For Gumby, Johnson's twin importance as a prominent African American and a practitioner of his favorite sport are both on display in the scrapbook volume he devoted to the fighter. In the two-page spread that appears here, Gumby mounted an autographed publicity photograph of Johnson from his boxing years opposite a page memorializing Gumby's attendance at an exhibition that Johnson gave at the famous Roof Garden above Hammerstein's Victoria Theatre in mid-July 1910, just a few weeks after his bout with Jeffries. (The program observes that it was Johnson's "first public appearance" since the fight, and indicated that he was scheduled to give "an exhibition of bag punching" and fight a three-round bout with an amateur champion from San Francisco.) Note that Gumby had Johnson sign both his ticket stub and door check at the Hammerstein event, no doubt with an eye towards their prominent placement in one of his scrapbooks.