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In 1910, Michigan governor faced pressure to censor “match of the century” for fear of race riots

A letter urging the governor to suppress the film
Michigan History Center
Michigan's governor received letters from all over, urging him to block the screening of Johnson's boxing match with Jeffries for fear of inciting racial violence.

Nowadays, watching sports highlights is as easy as looking at your phone. But a century ago, not so much. 

In fact, more than 100 years ago, groups were urging the Governor of Michigan to suppress the showing of a film that recorded one of the biggest sporting events of the age. 

Mark Harvey, a state archivist with the Michigan History Center, joined Stateside to explain why the film was so controversial.

The film depicted a boxing (or "prize fighting") match between Jack Johnson, the reigning heavyweight champion at the time, and Jim Jeffries. Johnson, a black man, won the fight against the white Jeffries, and there was fear that the results would start riots among viewers.

"It seems in 1910  people didn't really like the motion picture of a black man beating the tar out of a white man," Harvey said. "It was a 15-round fight. It was never close."

Listen above to hear how the governor responded to the letters urging him to block the film screening, what happened to Johnson's career after the match, and the violence that did erupt around other viewings of the match. 

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