The Pussycat of Prizefighting
Tiger Flowers and the Politics of Black Celebrity

Andrew M. Kaye

A fresh look at black athletes and the perils of stardom

Reviews

"Situates Tiger Flowers—and the fighter's career—into the debate over race and racial symbolism in the first three decades of the twentieth century. Andrew Kaye realizes that Flowers never stood alone in the minds of Americans who followed his career—that Flowers was only a part of the story that involved battle royals, Jack Johnson, Battling Siki, and the great—primarily white—debate over the role of the black man in America. Kaye's work has nuance, depth, and insight that ranges far beyond the career of Tiger Flowers."
—Randy Roberts, author of Papa Jack: Jack Johnson and the Era of White Hopes

"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


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Description
In 1926 Theodore “Tiger” Flowers became the first African American boxer to win the world middleweight title. The next year he was dead, the victim of surgery gone wrong. His funeral in Atlanta drew tens of thousands of mourners, black and white. Atlantans would not grieve again in comparable numbers until Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in 1968.

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.

Page count: 232 pp.
Illustrated
Trim size: 5.75 x 8.6875

Read more about Tiger Flowers at the New Georgia Encyclopedia.

 

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Paper
List price:
978-0-8203-2910-9
4/1/2007
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Andrew M. Kaye has taught American history at the universities of Newcastle and Durham. He is now a writer living in London.