Distinguished Lecturers
Johnny Smith

Johnny Smith

Johnny Smith is an assistant professor of history at Georgia Tech, where he has won numerous teaching awards. His research investigates the history of American sports, and he is especially interested in sports icons who have left imprints on American culture. His first book, The Sons of Westwood: John Wooden, UCLA, and the Dynasty that Changed College Basketball (2013), explores the emergence of college basketball as a national pastime and the political conflicts in college athletics during the 1960s and 1970s. Most recently, he is a coauthor, with Randy Roberts, of Blood Brothers: The Fatal Friendship between Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X (2016)—named one of Amazon's best history books of the year—and A Season in the Sun: The Rise of Mickey Mantle (2018).

OAH Lectures by Johnny Smith

The Revolt of the Black Athlete and the 1968 Olympics." In this lecture, Smith explains the roots of the "revolt of the black athlete" during the 1960s. Tracing the origins of black athletic protest through the careers of Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell, heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali, UCLA All-American Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), and track stars Tommie Smith and John Carlos, Smith examines the relationship between iconic black athletes and the radicalization of American politics.

In this lecture, Smith explores the significance of Jackie Robinson as a cultural symbol and the political implications of his career and civil rights activism.

How did Cassius Clay become Muhammad Ali? Why was he the most polarizing athlete in America during the 1960s? Historian Johnny Smith will answer these questions and discuss his new book, Blood Brothers, the first in-depth portrait of the pivotal friendship between Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X. Professor Smith will explain the central role Malcolm X played in the life of Muhammad Ali and how the politics of the Nation of Islam broke the bond between these two icons. Blood Brothers is a tale of friendship and brotherhood, love and deep affection. It is also a story of deceit, betrayal, and violence—inside and outside the ring—during a troubled time in America.


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