The black prizefighter labored in one of the few trades where an African American man could win renown: boxing. His prowess in the ring asserted an independence and powerful masculinity rare for black men in a white-dominated society, allowing him to be a man--and thus truly free. Louis Moore draws on the life stories of African American fighters active from 1880 to 1915 to explore working-class black manhood. As he details, boxers bought into American ideas about masculinity and free enterprise to prove their equality while using their bodies to become self-made men. The African American middle class, meanwhile, grappled with an expression of public black maleness they saw related to disreputable leisure rather than respectable labor. Moore shows how each fighter conformed to middle class ideas of masculinity based on his own judgment of what culture would accept. Finally, he argues that African American success in the ring shattered the myth of black inferiority despite media and government efforts to defend white privilege.
"Moore moves the reader beyond Jack Johnson by telling the stories of a generation of African Americans who labored with their fists at the beginning of the twentieth century. He weaves a narrative of migratory labor, racism, masculinity, and consumption that shaped the lives of working fighters. Although these pugilistic laborers could reach the height of fame and fortune, racism limited opportunities and financial mismanagement led to economic ruin. Moore describes how boxers such as Joe Gans tried to secure their manhood and livelihood through the ring. I Fight for a Living reminds the reader that sports and labor need to be analyzed together."--Derrick E. White, coeditor of Winning While Losing: Civil Rights, the Conservative Movement, and the Presidency from Nixon to Obama
"Immensely readable. . . . I Fight for a Living is essential reading for anyone interested in 'the shadow of the black fist' of racism that loomed over the ring well into the twentieth century, and the African-American fight for equal footing amidst the inception of modern boxing."--Slugfestboston
"In I Fight for A Living, Moore presents the complex ways that whites sought to define and maintain white manhood through the lens of the boxing ring. . . . It is important to consider the narratives that Moore presents in I Fight for A Living as part of historical continuum that we need not forget."--Sport Literature Association
"Its depth and breadth are impressive and will challenge scholars and students to see sport history in new ways." --The Journal of Southern History
"Moore provides valuable insight into the experience and impact of many other top-flight black boxers of the 1885-1915 period." --The Journal of American History