Jack Johnson in a Marion Racer

Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight boxing champion, was reviled by virtually all of white America for succeeding, for disposing of a series of less skilled, smaller white opponents to become the first black heavyweight world champion boxer. A perusal of newspaper microfilm bears out any suspicion that America was a land of vastly different sensibilities in the early 1900s than what it is today. News coverage and the comics section, in particular, were blatantly racist and intolerable by today's standards. 
Despite that backdrop, a November 19, 1909, Indianapolis Star article that covers Johnson's visit is reasonably even-handed. The previous month there had been speculation that Johnson was on his way to Indianapolis but apparently, the visit was delayed several weeks. Finally, Johnson was in town for a "performance" at the Empire theater. Such engagements with boxers usually involved a monolog or interview, some shadow boxing, bag work or even sparring.
Johnson was an auto racing aficionado. Legend had that he had been assigned more speeding citations than any man in America. The Marion Motor Car Company furnished the visiting champion with what was termed "a racing car," and that is the image you see here. It was published November 18, 1909, in the Indianapolis News. Despite unsubstantiated reports, Johnson did not appear at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway but he did "scorch" the local country roads.
Johnson made a brief foray into auto racing in an unsanctioned race meet with the most famous and sometimes notorious self-promoting racer of the day, Barney Oldfield. Despite his antics and a penchant for showmanship in staged races, Oldfield was one of the best of his day. In fact, Oldfield's interest in this event was a scheme to make money off of the attention it would draw and the rights his agreement gave him to the film he produced capturing the occasion.
Oldfield's vast experience made the affair a lopsided contest and Johnson, while he still appreciated a fast car, never proceeded further with any notions of an auto racing career. Oldfield, seemingly always at odds with the sport's American governing body, the American Automobile Association (AAA) found himself suspended for yet again staging an unsanctioned race.

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