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Net winnings have been flat at Saratoga for the past three years, according to commission figures, though statewide racino winnings dropped last year by about 1 percent. The gaming landscape changed when statewide voters in amended the state constitution to allow a limited number of full casinos, including at least one in the Capital Region — creating fears that the racinos would lose business.

"Blackjack": Walter White and Modernism in an Unknown Boxing Novel

Early on, the Casino and Raceway planned to apply to run a full gaming facility, but the plans ran into extensive local opposition, and the Saratoga Springs City Council essentially blocked the proposal by voting not to endorse the idea. Later the owners offered plans for a casino in East Greenbush, but it also ran into significant opposition and lost out to Schenectady when the state Gaming Commission recommended sites. Without a hotel, racino officials have warned of a likely decline in the 2. Cox said those staying at the hotel will be encouraged to go downtown, believing that will encourage repeat business.

The state Lottery oversees the racino games, with profits going to state education funding. Skip to main navigation. Subscriber login Enter your email address. Enter the password that accompanies your email address. Saratoga still divided on issue of arming school grounds monitors 9: Time to end cash bail 9: Release info about Schoharie limo crash site 5: Racino betting blackjack will be hit with patrons. A patron who asked not to be identified plays electronic blackjack at the Saratoga Casino and Raceway on Wednesday.

Clinic offered for those interested in buying vacant Schenectady homes Shenendehowa school board votes to sell land to BBL. Reed, the club owner, convinces Blackjack to work for him around the club in exchange for a living and boxing instruction. Under the tutelage of Reed and one Roughhouse Perkins, a journeyman fighter, Blackjack makes progress. Blackjack had not been anxious to become a fighter, not after his ignominy in the battle royal. In fact, it is Reed's idea and it is Reed who sees something in him. Right after the battle, Reed comes into the dressing room and finds him alone.

At this point White spends some time describing Blackjack's physique. Here it is, stripped of incidentals of the text:. Compare those attributes with this description of the protagonist of Joseph Moncure March's novel-in-verse of a black boxer, The Set-Up:. One could say that the similarities are more apparent than real, and that there are some conventions at work here, and I would agree.

But if White were really interested in both boxing and writing, he might be expected to be interested in March's rhymed novel of a black boxer on the skids. And a letter of January 18, , while White was still working on the manuscript, confirms that he owned a copy of The Set-Up. March's novel in verse was made into a famous boxing film in the early s, starring Robert Ryan in an appropriated role as a white boxer.

White posits Jim Reed as a good judge of "horseflesh" and soon Reed is turning over to Blackjack what he knows about boxing, including the necessity of staying away from women:. Blackjack immediately thinks of Molly Henderson and agrees. White seems determined to encase Blackjack in a male world, with no romantic interest to redeem him.

He does toy for a few pages with the idea of a relationship for Blackjack with a schoolteacher who tutors him in grammar, but that digression vanishes when Jim Reed gets Blackjack a real fight in Pittsburgh. He wins that and then one in Chicago, then one in California after an episode with a white prostitute and finds he is being touted as the ringnext "Black menace.

Because significant changes in the story begin at this point, it is important to note that the manuscript changes from typescript to autograph on page 75, in the middle of the prostitute episode, and not on 84, at the beginning of Chapter Eight. There is no evidence in the manuscript that White had stopped writing on 76 for any period, so we must assume that the change from typescript merely marks the point at which a transcription stopped sometime in Evidence of a break or alteration in composition does not show up until 87, with the introduction of a new character, Waldo Roberts.

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At the very line with which White inserts Roberts into the story, the editorial hand writes in the margin: It is possible that Roberts is a character intended for another story, perhaps even the multi-generational novel White considered but apparently abandoned. Textual evidence and one set of notes support such a possibility. The text introduces Roberts as though a conversation about him had already begun earlier, or elsewhere, between the author and the reader.

Here is how White brings Roberts into the story:. White goes on to explain about Roberts and the war he was an officer , Roberts and his search for a newspaper job, and finally, after seven pages, Roberts's first encounter with Blackjack. A set of notes found with the manuscript seems to refer to Roberts as he might have been conceived earlier by White.

Although the note also refers to Blackjack, it is a novel that the as-yet-unnamed Roberts is working on that seems relevant:. It is likely that X's novel of generations of black families and their clashing philosophies was White's promised novel to Knopf. How and why that story was abandoned in favor of the boxing novel has yet to be determined, but Waldo Roberts seems to be both White and a character in such a novel. The introduction of Roberts changes the tone of the story somewhat. Given a vehicle for observation in the person of Roberts, a man very much like himself in background, White is able to comment on the contemporary moment in something like his own voice.

Roberts holds forth on race, post-war politics, public relations, style, and ambition throughout the remaining pages of the manuscript, while he attempts to shape Blackjack for their mutual benefit. Roberts notes early on, for instance, that Blackjack lacks the "killer" instinct necessary for a champion. The boxer is cool at first to Roberts's observation but determined to prove him wrong in any case.

The result is Blackjack's knockout victory over Sailor Freeman in White's longest and best-prepared fight description. After the Sailor Freeman fight, Blackjack is clearly in line for a title bout with Jack Dorsey read Dempsey , but Roberts tells him he hasn't a chance because, in effect, he's invisible to the white world.

Roberts's argument is that whites appropriate black culture and talent and profit from it. He believes that the only way to counter that exploitation is to make yourself visible so the world will know that you have the goods. It is interesting to see White write this argument since some of the whites he charges with appropriation are friends of his:.

Roberts tells Blackjack that his talents are impressive but will pass unrewarded if he doesn't do something to put himself in the public eye. Roberts recommends flashy clothes, gold teeth, a big car, and a pet monkey. The point, he argues, is to overload whites with the stereotype they want to see:. Under Roberts's tutelage, Blackjack begins to refashion himself. He buys a monkey, new suits "of extreme and fearsome cut," and a new car—"Post-modernism gone mad in its triangles, squares and angular contortions applied with ultra-vivid pigments made the machine impossible to ignore.

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On October 30, , Lucien V. Alexis wrote to White, sending him a "Syllabus to Fundamentals in Physics and in Chemistry" for his "personal use. The files I have seen contain no copy of the syllabus or of an "enclosed circular" or of a "Prefatory Note" to which Alexis refers, so it is impossible to say what the syllabus contained. What is of interest here, however, is the letterhead on which the correspondence is typed. It identifies Alexis, along with L. The motto of the group, set just below the masthead, was "There is a single primordial unit of matter; there is a single active primordial unit of ether-space.

However post-modern his automobile, Blackjack was also the recipient of a revised personal history, a refashioned past. A sportswriter short on copy for the day wrote that Blackjack's paternal grandfather, a great king in Africa, had been captured through treachery and brought to America. Too proud to bend to slavery, the king had been killed by an overseer, but not before he had sired Blackjack's father.

The fighter wanted to deny the story, but Roberts argued that stranger things had happened in slavery and it could be true. White then allows Roberts several pages of exempla of publicity stunts of the rich and famous, from Dempsey and Gene Tunney to Teddy Roosevelt. White's use of Roberts as a mouthpiece for speculations on race, fame, psychology, and politics sets this book apart from his previous novels. Both Fire in theFlint and Flight were clearly modeled on the novelistic formulas of the great writers of the black bourgeoisie of the previous generation, primarily Frances E.

Harper and Charles Chesnutt. In them, White told tales of the Talented Tenth through an omniscient voice that set and maintained the moral tone of the novel. The manuscript may or may not be two-thirds complete as White had suggested in the letter to Eugene Martin in September of It is hard to know where he was intending to go with the story.

In the closing pages as we have them he describes one more fight, in which Blackjack calls the round in which he will knock out his opponent and so gains great notoriety. He and Roberts then pursue a fight with Jack Dorsey but are rebuffed. The account of these efforts, which is incomplete and with which the manuscript ends in mid-sentence, reads like a history of Harry Wills's attempts to get Dempsey into the ring.

How White was to resolve the problem is not indicated.

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Only one plot complication is hinted at; the inability to get a fight with Dorsey has put a hold on Blackjack's career and he is running out of money. He can't even get a fight with a "set-up," here meaning not a rigged fight but an overmatch, a champion with a plug, a comer with a has-been. Even Roberts doesn't know how bad Blackjack's financial and emotional conditions are.

Is White setting Blackjack up for a fix? For a moral dilemma in which integrity is the door to poverty and expediency to momentary comfort? Whose crisis will it be, Blackjack's or Roberts's? White has hinted that Roberts's enthusiasm for the fast life has its limits. At one point he waxes philosophic about the boat they're all in:. White keeps Blackjack unaware experientially of the sources of Roberts's "gentle pessimism" but seems to hint that part of the story will be Blackjack's gradual wakening to a world of value outside of self-maintenance.

Back in , White had written to Arthur Spingarn:. The novel White wrote next was Flight and it contained no such discussion as he described to Spingarn. That material appears here, however, in Roberts's concern. How White worked on this manuscript, off and on over the years between and late , has been hinted at in his correspondence.

If, as the letter to Arthur Spingarn suggests, it was his practice to "familiarize" himself with matters before or as he wrote about them, some of his notes are guides to that process.


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In two pages of undated notes, White records his observations of a boxer's gym during an afternoon's visit. The first notice of the gym I found was in a commercial directory for , and there is a note about boxing activity at "Billy Grupp's Harlem gymnasium" in the August 24, , edition of the Chicago Whip. White could have visited the gym, located at West th Street in Harlem, any time between and late when he seems to have quit work on the novel.

Nothing in the notes can be used to date the visit, but the picture it gives of a kind of scene that no longer exists is interesting. Grupp's was a hall, about 75 feet long and 50 feet wide, with a high ceiling. On the day of White's visit, at one end of the hall between long windows a "big red headed N" punched one of two light bags, "two with left, two with right, then terrific thud with right which threatened each time to rip apparatus from the wall. In front of the punching bags were two sand bags. At one a "swarthy pounder in blue trunks with red stripe around waist and running down leg" worked out; at another an "Irish heavyweight, Black hair, blue eyes in all over Black tights and white pants punched.

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One pirouetting forward like ballet dancer, other light-footedly one foot after other. In the regulation ring at the other end, flanked by "undertaker chairs" on two sides, two middleweights sparred as a "N with expressionlessness of Black Buddha watched time piece cupped in left hand and struck bell with stick for rounds. White wasn't the only observer that day. He noted the presence of "shirt-sleeved gentry, colors running chiefly to greens apathetically" watching.

With a note about a heavy black man with "hair clipped on side so that top was like a skull cap,"wearing fingerless gloves over which he put on big boxing gloves, White closed out his record, adding a few spaces down the "odor of sweat and liniment and arnica. Faintly sour and bit sickening. There are other notes in the files, including clippings of such fights as Jack Johnson v. Sammy Tisch September 17, , Kid Chocolate v. Johnny Erickson October 1, , Max Schmeling v. Joe Glick undated , Kid Chocolate v. Joe Scalfaro undated , and Vitorio Campolo v.

There is more material than I have noted here, and research can draw out even more. But White's papers are not collected and his practice of using his office at NAACP headquarters for personal correspondence in the mid-twenties has dispersed them even further. There are no serious biographies of him. His own autobiography, A Man Called White , and the biography by his second wife together give no more than three sentences to his novels.

Yet Fire in the Flint was the first African-American novel to take as its central task the analysis of lynching in the modern era and Flight and the story of its reception should be looked at in the light of the careers of Jessie Fauset and Nella Larsen, the authors of other serious "passing" novels of the decade. The manuscript of "Blackjack" presents us with several problems when we come to evaluate it in terms of what it might have been if completed. It contains, for example, pages of awkward prose, and the editorial hand eventually gives up on all except the most egregious matters of style.

It is not clear whether White intended this novel to carry the discursive weight that his plans for a multi-generational novel promised, but as it exists the manuscript suffers structurally; characters are introduced and vanish, never to be mentioned again, point of view seems irrelevant to White, and Waldo Roberts is a more interesting character than the novel's eponymous hero.

There are some suggestions in other notes that White intended Blackjack to take on more compelling dimensions. One note, clipped to a column of comments by Harry Elmer Barnes, says, "Blackjack and Negro preacher discuss Christianity. Similarly, White had plans for a streak of cynicism in Blackjack that does not appear in the manuscript. A note for the novel reads:. In a two page set-piece on "justice" and "ethics" that White did not insert in the manuscript, he or some character questions the relevance of both terms to modern life, particularly in relation to white attitudes toward black Americans.

Such observations provide a window on a private discourse White might have been having with the world as he matured as a writer and as a political man. It could well be that White did see the novel developing a critique of American society through the lenses of both Waldo Roberts and Blackjack Fortune. The world of boxing, the machinations of the "czars of fistiana" and the mob enthusiasms of the "gallery gods," as well as the effect of the physical and moral beatings Blackjack took in that world framed the first pages of his attempt.

How much further he would have to go to realize a design for a serious discussion of his times, and whether he would have left boxing behind as Blackjack sank into poverty, cynicism, and defeat is not clear. But Walter White was a serious observer of his times and a ceaseless worker for his race as a professional "race man," as a courageous investigator, as a tireless activist, and as a writer.

Whether he could have made the transition from nineteenth-century formulas to the narrative freedom of modernism is anybody's guess. His failures as a playwright weighed heavily on his artistic sense of himself and he may actually have come to believe that fiction, too, was beyond his most secure grasp. But most of all, the great work of the race was yet to be done in the twentieth century, and in , at 37, Walter White found himself called on to direct a major part of it.

Research for this article was begun during a year as Scholar-in-Residence at the Schomburg, funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. White was born in Atlanta and graduated from Atlanta University in In , Knopf published White's first novel, The Fire in the Flint in later editions, "The" was dropped from the title , and in his second, Flight.

Fire in the Flint is a novel of lynch law in the South and is based not only on White's childhood memories but on his experience as an investigator for the NAACP. White was an effective investigator not only because he was intelligent and personally fearless, but because he was blonde and blue-eyed and passed as a white man throughout the South at will.

Arnold Rampersad [New York: Flight is a "passing" novel in which the protagonist, not unlike White himself, chooses to live as a Negro rather than as a white. Fire in the Flint was published in several foreign editions and generated considerable attention for a few months, while Flight was less enthusiastically received. Everlast Sporting Goods Manufacturing Co. A Man Called White: Viking, , Letter to his parents, May 14, There is a second "hand" evident in the manuscript.

Other than White's own identifiable interlineations, there are comments in the margins in another handwriting that direct White's attention to problems in the text. As of this writing I have not uncovered the identity of this commentator. He or she is clearly a friend of White as the tone of some of the remarks is quite casual and at times provocative. Covici Friede, , The only woman to speak in the manuscript at any length is a white prostitute sent by an opponent's manager to set him up for a morals charge. White's treatment of the scene makes Blackjack's fear of her clear, but at first we can't tell whether the fear is of her sexuality or her whiteness or both:.

She was not very pretty and there was that about her which would have labeled her had the circumstances been less obvious ones. Brown eyes stared with assurance from a milky white skin. She could not have been at most more than twenty-three. A numbing fear brought beads of perspiration to Blackjack's brow and constriction to the muscles of his throat.

His sense was more one of fear than of moral indignation. Not the precepts dinned in his ear by his father but memory of his terror that night when Molly Henderson's husband had slowly squeezed life from her body. The skin of his back seemed to him to contract and expand as he lived once again those terrible moments as he had seen her die. Werner Sollors directed me to Bourne's essay in an e-mail note of April 1, Skip to main content Skip to quick search Skip to global navigation. Home About Search Browse.

Jack Dempsey's outlook as heavyweight champion is bright and promising. There is hardly any worthy opponent around at present who might take away his crown with the exception [sic] of Harry Wills and Jack Johnson, these two being out of the running due to Dempsey's drawing the color line. Some time ago when it was thought that Dempsey and Wills might fight on July 4 at Montreal, Claude McKay, the Negro poet and one of the editors of the Liberator told me that he had been approached by the World and asked to cover the fight from the angle of a colored man.

McKay at that time spoke to me about it and urged that I get in touch with you on the matter as he felt that he did not know enough about prize fighting to do such an article. If you have not already made such arrangements, I should like very much to cover the fight for the World. If you are interested in such a proposal I shall be glad to call and discuss the matter with you. Will you be good enough to write me about this matter, marking the envelope "Personal. For three years Harry Wills has been seeking a fight with Jack Dempsey. Despite what must have been strong temptations to characterize the reasons given why the fight could not take place for the flimsy evasions they were, Harry Wills has been a gentleman in the highest sense of the word.

I am informed he has continued to work as a stevedore in order to earn a living while waiting for his chance at Dempsey.

Having done this these authorities suddenly and without explanation order the stadium torn down. One cannot escape the conviction that had the fight been between two white or two colored boxers there would not have been such zealousness on the part of [the authorities]. One wonders if "white supremacy" is in such grave danger that it can be protected only through such means. If and when Jack Dempsey ever fights Harry Wills, how would it do for me to write a piece for the World covering it from the angle of the Negro's point of view.

Three or four years ago when there seemed a likelihood that Dempsey would fight Wills, I took the matter up with the Sporting Department and I had a letter saying they would like to have me do it. I confess I fear that this is one assignment that won't come to pass, but I wanted you to have it in mind if the fight ever takes place. Yes, there are very definite signs of limitations in the field of fiction.

When I see the great flood of novels that pour forth every season, nine-tenths of them at least which never should have been written, I am inclined to feel that the novel is being done to death. On the other hand, I think that you, I, and the rest of us who are writing about Negro life as it really exists are exploring a field which is as yet practically untouched. I remember a letter from Mr. Mencken shortly after I had been asked by a publisher to eliminate considerable portions of my own novel because of fear that it would offend the South.

Mencken wrote me, "The pussyfooting Southern novel is dead and the only hope of writing such fiction lies in complete honesty. Wednesday night, for example, I had a long talk with two publishers, that is, two members of a new publishing firm. It was the feeling of all three of us that the present keen interest in the Negro as an artist has its roots firmly fixed and that, instead of being a fad comparable to Coueism, Mah-Jong, and the present cross-word puzzle craze, it was a movement that was destined to develop and flower.

In addition to writing Rope and Faggot in France I also wrote some 35, words of a new novel which Knopf wanted me to finish in time for fall publication. That is out of the question so they now want me to complete it by September 1st. I plan to devote my vacation to the writing of the balance which will be about as much as I have written.

The contract between Knopf and myself for Flight stipulated that you would have the right of refusal of the two books following publication of Flight. Perhaps it would be more exact to say that the contract for Flight covered three books. In Flight and Rope and Faggot I have fulfilled two-thirds of that obligation. I am writing now to ask that you be good enough to release me from the stipulation as to the third one—which is to say a novel upon which I am now at work. After you left I went into the silences and spent my vacation working desperately trying to finish a novel.

I did write around twenty-five thousand words which, with the twenty thousand or so that I wrote in France, completes about two-thirds of the book. The prospect for sufficient time to finish it within the next year is not very bright. I think I told you when you were here that Mr. Johnson has been awarded a Fellowship from the Rosenwald Fund to do a year of creative writing. He is to attend a conference in Japan and from the end of this month to the middle of November, , I have had the job of Acting Secretary put upon me by the Board.

To a certain extent this means not doing his job but doing both his and mine. Besides his wisdom in directing the affairs of the Association Mr. Johnson has raised a great deal of money through his personal efforts. On top of losing him for a year the Association and I, personally, sustained a terrible loss in the death of Louis Marshall who was our Chief Counsel.

This means that the coming year is going to be a most difficult and critical one in the Association's history. He sat reflectively for several minutes without speaking, and I took advantage of the opportunity to study him.