Doctor of Philosophy
Dr. Robert K. Barney
Fought the Good Fight, Finished My Course explores the forces that fueled the ascension of Canadian-born, Boston-raised boxer George Dixon (1870-1908) from a remote racial enclave in Nova Scotia to the heights of multi-continent fame during a suffocating era for black advancement, and how those same forces failed to prevent his early, tragic demise.
Dixon parlayed an early passion for boxing into a career as a pioneering world champion, barnstormer, showman and ambassador for a sport just finding its place in North American culture in the 1880s/1890s. At 20, he became the World Bantamweight Champion in 1890 – the first black world champion of any sport, the first black world boxing champion in any division, and the first Canadian to hold any world title. By 1892, Dixon added the World Featherweight title, as well.
Despite his success, Dixon never found a balance between the white world he served and the black world from which he came. Due to the heavy hand of his white management team, he was sheltered from the realities of life as a black man in the United States. His frequent defeats of white opponents were so commonplace, so well managed they rarely raised the racist riotous behavior attached to even the most mundane of black activities. His close ties to white society, however, led to increased distance between himself and the concerns of Black America. It was not until his first visit to Dixie to compete in the Carnival of Champions in 1892 in New Orleans when the magnitude of his isolation was understood.
After the loss of his title in 1890, Dixon was abandoned by his white world, and left unprotected from the suffocation of Jim Crow America, as well as his own personal demons hell-bent on self-destruction and financial ruin. Once the richest black man in America, he died penniless in 1908.
Dixon’s willingness to cede control of his life to achieve that standing became his greatest weakness and ultimate downfall. Dixon never bucked the rising tide of Jim Crow America, instead, his course was navigated for him by a white power structure and that fact cost him his life and a level of immortality later ascribed to other black champions.
Winders, Jason A., "'Fought the Good Fight, Finished My Course': George Dixon Amid the Rising Tide of Jim Crow America" (2016). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 4108.