Congress Moves To Ban Fight Films
John Arthur “Jack” Johnson was born in Galveston, Texas in 1878. He worked as a dock worker but in 1901 he fought experienced boxer Joe Choynski in Galveston in an illegal match. Both men were jailed and Choynski taught Johnson the skills of boxing while they were in prison. Johnson developed his own style of boxing that was slow and deliberate. It was very effective but it was criticized in the press as being cowardly and devious. By 1902 Johnson had won at least 50 fights against both white and black opponents. Johnson won the World Colored Heavyweight Championship in February 1903. He wished to fight for the World Heavyweight Championship but reigning champion James J Jeffries refused to face him. Johnson fought former champion Bob Fitzsimmons in July 1907 and knocked him out in two rounds.
Johnson finally won the world heavyweight title in December 1908 beating reigning world champion Canadian Tommy Burns in Sydney, Australia in 14 rounds. For the next 2 years, Johnson faced several fighters each called “the Great White Hope”, a racial taunt at the African American champion. Finally in 1910 former undefeated heavyweight champion James J Jeffries came out of retirement to challenge Johnson. He had to lose 100 pounds to get to fighting weight. “The Fight Of The Century” took place on July 4, 1910 in front of 20,000 people, at a ring built just for the occasion in downtown Reno, Nevada.
On July 4, 1912 Johnson defended hit title against “Fireman” Jim Flynn in New Mexico. Despite being warned by the referee Flynn continually attempted to headbutt Johnson and the local sheriff eventually stepped in to stop the fight in Johnson’s favor. The fight was filmed and producers hoped to successfully distribute it just as the Jefferies fight had been. Aware of the riots from the 1910 fight Southern Congressmen introduced bill that would outlaw the interstate transportation of fight films. Representative Seaborn Rodenberry of Georgia referred to Johnson specifically as “an African biped beast” and stated “no man descended from the old Saxon race can look upon that kind of contest without abhorrence and disgust.” These Southern racists did not want a film of an African-American beating a white man shown anywhere. Representative Thetus Sims of Tennessee pressed the bill forward and it became known as the Sims Act.
On July 31, 1912 the Sims Act was passed by Congress. This was the first time the US federal government had stepped in and enforced censorship in motion pictures. It is also the first time Congress involved itself directly in a sports-related matter.