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The prospect of being "no-platformed" has persuaded me to downtone the authenticity of the racist language typical of this Jim Crow era I would otherwise have used in this.


From the day he was the Champ he had a target on his back -

The price he paid for whupping Tommy Burns;

They tried to find The Great White Hope to end the reign of Jack.


He dumped him on the canvas like he’d hit him with an axe

The crowd of white folks shocked and taciturn;

From the day he was the Champ he had a target on his back -


The nation went in uproar at a champion who’s black;

The daemon in the soul of Dixie yearns

“Who will be the Great White Hope to end the reign of Jack?”


Across the land there’s murder of the coloureds in attacks

As effigies of Johnson hang and burn;

From the day he was a champ he had a target on his back.


From out of his retirement they then brought James Jeffries back -

The Undefeated making his return

To prove the White Man better and to end the reign of Jack.


In round 15 they stopped the fight with Jeffries on the rack

America reluctantly now learns

There was no Great White Hope that day to end the reign of Jack

But Johnson learned he’d always have a target on his back.




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John Coopey

Sun 10th Oct 2021 20:48

Thanks Stephen G.

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Stephen Gospage

Sun 10th Oct 2021 17:29

Thanks, John. A very effective poem,. And a good story. As for taking the knee, everyone, let's do it. It's not as though the problem has gone away.

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John Coopey

Sun 10th Oct 2021 14:40

No problem, Greg. They are indeed related.
He did eventually succumb to a Great White Hope, Stephen, Jesse Willard. But that was no disgrace. He lost in the 26th round, I believe. But not before ruling the roost for so many years.

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Stephen Atkinson

Sun 10th Oct 2021 13:56

I watched a documentary about this lad not so long back. Both fascinating & disturbing. I remember he married a white girl & she was vilified for it also.
They threw every 'white hope' at him, all of which had no hope. Good one John.

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Greg Freeman

Sun 10th Oct 2021 11:48

All I can say is, that wasn't the case at all at Woking v Grimsby yesterday, a crowd of 4,400. No boos, thunderous applause. Sorry, John, I didn't mean to hijack your excellent villanelle with my comments. But the two matters are related.

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John Coopey

Sun 10th Oct 2021 11:09

Thankyou Leon and Graham. My fear goes beyond yours, Graham, that the booing for taking the knee increases over time; not motivated by racism but by spectator frustration - a call to “Get on with it!” And that that will give succour to those there who are racist.

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Graham Sherwood

Sun 10th Oct 2021 10:32

I think if you took a straw poll from the players, many of them would like to stop doing it but do not dare to be the first one to stop. A bit like applauding someone and never knowing when to stop. Sadly it has lost its impact now and football racism won't be curtailed by this one now outdated action.

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Leon Kamm

Sun 10th Oct 2021 10:06

Good piece John.

On taking the knee, it has now become part of sporting events - an area where there has been overt racism and something had/has to be done to confront it. However, will it become such an automatic gesture that it will lose its impact over time?

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John Coopey

Sun 10th Oct 2021 08:52

Thanks for your thoughts, Greg and Kevin, and for the Like Aisha.
Here is a fuller story,
The irony is that Johnson said he encountered little racism in his childhood. There were few blacks in Galveston and his playmates were other white kids. It was only once he’d threatened the superiority of the White Man by becoming (undisputed) world champion that the shit hit the fan.
The police stopped them filming the end of the Burns fight; it was considered too racially incendiary.

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kJ Walker

Sun 10th Oct 2021 08:37

Villanelles are a great way of getting the point across, especially when the repeated lines are so hard-hitting.
I think that I have worked out the bit that you have moderated, but personally I would have understood the point you were making if you had left it unchanged.
As for taking the knee , (I hate racism, and am not afraid of making myself unpopular when I pull people up on it, but) although I think it was the right thing to do at the time, I fear it is now becoming over used.

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Greg Freeman

Sun 10th Oct 2021 00:46

Thank you for moderating your language on this one, John. The point you make and the technique you employ is respected and applauded.

I was at my local team's game today where the knee was taken, and it was roundly and heartily applauded. Did my heart good.

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