The great disappointment

In the last few days and coming weeks, private citizens are doing their best to mark the most important event in the history of Reno, the centennial of the “great white hope” prizefight on July 4, 1910. They could have used some help from the city government and the visitors authority.

“It’s one of the things that made Reno, Reno,” historian Guy Louis Rocha said, noting that other states did not want the fight. “The fact that it could happen in Reno, and it couldn’t happen in San Francisco—it conjured images: That’s where people get divorced, where people gamble, where the great white hope fight happened.”

In 2003, the city staged a summer-long commemoration of Reno’s second incorporation as a city. It called it a centennial. The actual Reno centennial had been marked in 1968, and the city’s original incorporation had even been observed in 1997.

The city did a better job promoting that lame 2003 commemoration than it has the Johnson/Jeffries centennial. It had commemorative coins minted, held concerts, parades, dances. People came to Reno for the events.

By contrast, all of the very few events being held to mark the fight are being staged by private citizens or organizations. Of official agencies, only the Nevada Historical Society has done its part.

Yes, there is a recession. But on other occasions, the city has called on large businesses and business groups like the Chamber of Commerce for help with various promotions. The chamber once paid part of the cost of an out-of-state City Council meeting. It’s hard to believe the well-connected mayor of Reno could not have made a few phone calls. And the Reno-Sparks Convention & Visitors Authority, which is funded by room taxes and over the years has diverted those monies far too much to purposes that serve the casinos instead of the entire community, should have been turning this anniversary into the biggest event in Reno history.

There were groups that could have been tapped for assistance and constituencies that would have provided visitors and participants. Boxing enthusiasts could have poured into Reno by the thousands—if they had known about it. African-Americans were entitled to greater visibility for this important benchmark in their history. The visitors that could have been lured to the city would have been an economic shot in the arm when Reno needs it most.

“This fight is a microcosm of the macrocosm,” Rocha has said, meaning that it was so historic because it revealed important things about the United States. “When you ask me what is the most important event in the history of Reno, it’s the Johnson/Jeffries fight.”

It’s unfortunate the city was not up to the challenge.