Jack Johnson (boxer)

Jack Johnson
Jack Johnson1.jpg
Johnson in 1915
Statistics
Nickname(s)Galveston Giant[1]
Weight(s)Heavyweight[1]
Height6 ft 12 in (184.2 cm)[2][3]
Reach74 in (188 cm)[1]
Born(1878-03-31)March 31, 1878[1]
Galveston, Texas, United States[1]
DiedJune 10, 1946(1946-06-10) (aged 68)[1]
Franklinton, North Carolina, United States
StanceOrthodox[1]
Boxing record
Total fights104
Wins74
Wins by KO40
Losses13
Draws10
No contests5

John Arthur Johnson (March 31, 1878 – June 10, 1946), nicknamed the Galveston Giant, was an American boxer who, at the height of the Jim Crow era, became the first African American world heavyweight boxing champion (1908–1915). Among the period's most dominant champions, Johnson remains a boxing legend, with his 1910 fight against James J. Jeffries dubbed the "fight of the century".[4] According to filmmaker Ken Burns, "for more than thirteen years, Jack Johnson was the most famous and the most notorious African-American on Earth".[5][6] Transcending boxing, he became part of the culture and the history of racism in America.[7]

In 1912, Johnson opened a successful and luxurious "black and tan" (desegregated) restaurant and nightclub, which in part was run by his wife, a white woman. Major newspapers of the time soon claimed that Johnson was attacked by the government only after he became famous as a black man married to a white woman, and was linked to other white women.[8] Johnson was arrested on charges of violating the Mann Act—forbidding one to transport a woman across state lines for "immoral purposes"—a racially motivated charge that embroiled him in controversy for his relationships, including marriages, with white women.[9] There were also allegations of domestic violence. Sentenced to a year in prison, Johnson fled the country and fought boxing matches abroad for seven years until 1920 when he served his sentence at the federal penitentiary at Levenworth. Johnson was posthumously pardoned by President Donald Trump in May 2018, 105 years after his conviction.[7][10]

Johnson continued taking paying fights for many years, and operated several other businesses, including lucrative endorsement deals. Johnson died in a car crash on June 10, 1946, at the age of 68.[11] He is buried at Graceland Cemetery in Chicago.[12]

Early life

Johnson was born the third child of nine, and the first son, of Henry and Tina Johnson, two former slaves who worked blue collar jobs as a janitor and a dishwasher. His father Henry served as a civilian teamster of the Union's 38th Colored Infantry. Jack once said his father was the "most perfect physical specimen that he had ever seen", although his father was only 5 ft 5 in (1.65 m) and left with an atrophied right leg from his service in the war.[13]

Growing up in Galveston, Texas, Johnson attended five years of school.[14] Like all of his siblings, Jack was expected to work.[14]

Although Johnson grew up in the South, he said that segregation was not an issue in the somewhat secluded city of Galveston, as everyone living in the 12th Ward was poor and went through the same struggles.[15] Johnson remembers growing up with a "gang" of white boys, in which he never felt victimized or excluded. Remembering his childhood, Johnson said: "As I grew up, the white boys were my friends and my pals. I ate with them, played with them and slept at their homes. Their mothers gave me cookies, and I ate at their tables. No one ever taught me that white men were superior to me."[15]

Johnson was a frail young boy.[16]

After Johnson quit school, he began a job working at the local docks. He made several other attempts at working other jobs around town until one day he made his way to Dallas, finding work at the race track exercising horses. Jack stuck with this job until he found a new apprenticeship for a carriage painter by the name of Walter Lewis. Lewis enjoyed watching friends spar, and Johnson began to learn how to box.[17] Johnson later claimed that it was thanks to Lewis that he became a boxer.[18]

At 16, Johnson moved to Manhattan and found living arrangements with Barbados Joe Walcott, a welterweight fighter from the West Indies.[18] Johnson again found work exercising horses for the local stable, until he was fired for exhausting a horse. On his return to Galveston, he soon found employment as a janitor at a gym owned by German-born heavyweight fighter Herman Bernau. Johnson eventually put away enough money to buy two pairs of boxing gloves, sparring every chance he got.[19]

Returning home from Manhattan, Johnson had a fight with Davie Pearson. Johnson remembers Pearson as a "grown and toughened" man who accused Johnson of turning him in to the police over a game of craps. When both of them were released from jail, they met at the docks and Johnson beat Pearson before a large crowd.[19] Johnson fought in a summer league against a man named John "Must Have It" Lee. Because prize fighting was illegal in Texas, the fight was broken up and moved to the beach where Johnson won his first fight and a prize of one dollar and fifty cents.[20]

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