Native sons and daughters North Hudson native and 20th century boxing sensation Joe Jeanette
by Jessica Rosero Reporter staff writer
Feb 26, 2006 | 5537 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Note this is part seven of an ongoing series.

James Braddock, "The Cinderella Man," was not the only famous boxing contender to come out of the North Hudson region.

Joe Jeanette, one of the best African-American boxers of the early 20th century, made his mark long before Braddock, with a career that spanned almost two decades of setting records and fighting racial stereotypes.

"[Jeanette] was one of the four great black boxers of the early 1900s, and he owned a boxing gym on 26th Street and Summit Avenue," said Kathie Pontus, a private historian. "Jeanette Street between Summit Avenue and Kennedy Boulevard is named for him."

Born on Aug. 26, 1879 in West Hoboken, now Union City, Jeanette was the son of Mena and Benjamin F. Jeanette, who worked as a local blacksmith.

Jeanette started working as an apprentice to his father and then as a coal truck driver for Jagels & Bellis. Then in 1904, at the age of 25, Jeanette began his boxing career on a dare and fought against Arthur Dickinson in Jersey City.

At 5 feet 10 inches and 190 pounds, Jeanette was relatively short and stocky with his only fighting experience being street brawls from his youth.

Jeanette lost the fight but stayed on the boxing path. Within two years he was considered to be one of the best black heavy weights in the nation, and he fought against other greats such as Jack Johnson, whom he faced in the ring a total of 10 times.

Racism in boxing

According to the film Unforgivable Blackness, directed by Ken Burns, "Jeanette won one fight on a foul after two rounds, lost twice, had two draws, and had five 'No Decisions' " in his fights against Johnson.

Then after Johnson became the first African-American Heavyweight Champion of the World on April 18, 1922, he never fought Jeanette or any other African-American boxer again, despite numerous challenges.

Great boxers of Jeanette's time were barred from fighting for the heavyweight championship due to racism. This made the African-American community deeply feel the sting of Johnson's refusal to fight black boxers, since the opportunity to fight top white boxers was rare.

At the time, Jeanette stated, "Jack forgot about his old friends after he became champion and drew the color line against his own people."

Greatest fight of the century

However, five years after turning professional, Jeanette traveled to Paris for the most famous fight of his career against Sam McVey, another renowned black boxer of the times, whom he had faced previously a total of five times. McVey was known as the Mike Tyson of his era.

According to the film, "[McVey] fought Johnson three times - losing twice to Johnson for the Colored Heavyweight Championship of the World in 1903, and losing by a knockout in San Francisco the following year."

Black boxers of the day only had a small number of prospective opponents from which to choose, and they ended up matched against the same fighters over and over again.

After being knocked down 27 times during the Paris fight on April 17, 1909, Jeanette was almost knocked out in the 16th round after receiving an uppercut with a right to the jaw, but in the 49th round he knocked out McVey for the win.

It was the longest fight of the 20th century, and was known as one of the greatest marathons in boxing history. Jeanette's fighting style mimicked that of his hero Sam Langford, whom he fought 15 times, and also reflected the inside punching style of the times.

Opponents knew that Jeanette was a dangerous inside boxer, and his defensive techniques were elusive and effective.

Jeanette retired at the age of 40 with a standing record of over 150 fights, although he believed it to be closer to 400, and became a referee in New Jersey. Eventually, he also converted his West Hoboken boxing gymnasium into a garage and operated a fleet of rental limousines, and then taxi services under the company name Adelaide, which was located at 552 Clinton Ave., now New York Avenue.

Jeanette died in 1958 and was elected into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1997.
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