"No Way But to Fight": George Foreman and the African American Century

Andrew R.M Smith, Purdue University


“No Way But to Fight” follows many iterations of George Foreman across the racial and spatial landscape of postwar African America: from a child of rural migration to an urbanized, ghettoized juvenile delinquent; from a nationally-recognized amateur athlete to a global prize fighting champion; from an interracial and transdenominational preacher to a famous celebrity pitchman. His experiences, touching now on eight different decades, weave in and out of several historical and historiographical markers: between the Great Migrations and a black freedom movement; through Cold War and culture wars; in the boundaries of the “American Century” as well as an “African American Century”. I contend that because he adapted as often, and sometimes as drastically, as the times in which he lived, historicizing Foreman’s experiences charts the geographic, cultural, and political movements of many African Americans from the middle of the 1900s into the 2000s. Although the narrative revolves around one figure, this dissertation draws on primary research in two languages, from six archives, and more than fifty periodicals to inform the most complete and accurate recreation of Foreman in his different incarnations to date. The ultimate purpose of this project is to historicize Foreman in, and in between, his public careers in order to make contributions to, as well some valuable as interventions in, scholarship on the African American experience as well as the history of sport.




Gabin, Purdue University.

Subject Area

African American Studies|History

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