"Scholars in more traditional areas of specialization sometimes regard sport history as frivolous, failing to realize how difficult, serious, and important an undertaking it can be. Andrew Kaye provides a corrective to this impressionistic and mistaken view. By assembling a remarkable variety of sources, many of them obscure, he reconstructs the life of a celebrated black pugilist, often dubbed 'the whitest black man in the ring,' within such contexts as urban life (in Brunswick, Atlanta, Philadelphia, and New York), the African American community, racial injustice, boxing traditions and politics, class divisions, masculinity, and Georgia history. The author's sensitivities seem endless. Engagingly written, this is sport history at its best, integrating the heroic and sometimes tragic life of Tiger Flowers into the social and cultural fabric of his times."
—John D. Fair, author of Muscletown, USA
Flowers, whose career was sandwiched between those of the better-known black boxers Jack Johnson and Joe Louis, was not America’s first successful black athlete. He was, however, the first to generate widespread goodwill among whites, especially in the South, where he became known as “the whitest black man in the ring.”
The Pussycat of Prizefighting is more than an account of Flowers’s remarkable achievements--it is a penetrating analysis of the cultural and historical currents that defined the terms of Flowers’s success as both a man and an athlete. As we discover the sources of Flowers’s immense popularity, Andrew Kaye also helps us to understand more deeply the pressures and dilemmas facing African Americans in the public eye.
We read, for instance, how boxing reinforced fans’ notions of masculinity and ethnic pride; how whites rationalized the physical superiority of a black sportsman; and how blacks debated the value of athletes as racial role models. Kaye shows how Flowers, mindful that the ring was a testing ground for much more than his punching ability, carefully negotiated the mass media and celebrity culture. He crafted an uncontroversial public persona--that of a religious man who prayed before each match, was deferential to whites, and exuded an aura of middleclass respectability.
Through the prism of prizefighting, this book reveals the personal cost African Americans faced as they attempted to earn black respect while escaping white hostility. Andrew Kaye gives us much to ponder regarding our own hopes and prejudices---and how we often burden our athletes and celebrities with them.
Read more about Tiger Flowers at the New Georgia Encyclopedia.
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