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Jack Johnson

Jack Johnson

“The possession of muscular strength and the courage to use it in contests with other men for physical supremacy does not necessarily imply a lack of appreciation for the finer and better things of life.”

John Arthur “Jack” Johnson started out as the “Galveston Giant” and went on to become the first African-American heavyweight champion of the world. His rise to the championship was fueled by a desire for more in life than the average black person could dream of at the dawn of the 20th century.

He was born was born on March 31, 1878, in Galveston, Texas. The son of ex-slaves and the third of nine children left his hometown and a life of work in the kitchens and docks and called on the assets that would carry him to fame, fortune and infamy. The physical power developed through hard work and his 6-foot-2-inch frame were obvious assets in the world of prizefighting, but Jack’s swagger and confidence in, and more importantly out of, the ring made him one of the most hated black men in America.

In an era when a black man could be lynched for looking at a white woman, Johnson publicly flaunted his relationships with white women to the anger of white America. He simply didn’t care.

The rise to champion

Johnson made a name for himself in the black prize-fighting circuit. But fighting black boxers was never going to bring the kind of purse that fighting a white boxer would bring. So Johnson set his sights on the prize, the heavyweight title, then held by Jim Jeffries. The problem was that in the early 1900s, white boxers didn’t fight black boxers. Jeffries refused to fight Johnson.

In the ring Johnson’s persona was brash and sensational. He would belittle his opponents, which would incite the white crowd into a frenzy. His arrogance and his cockiness charged the atmosphere at his bouts with a hysteria not seen before. This black man, symbolically, beating down white America . . . and enjoying it.

Johnson’s antics made him hard to ignore. He taunted and dared the new heavyweight champ, Tommy Burns, to fight him. Burns refused. It wasn’t until he was guaranteed a $30,000 purse, win or lose, that Burns accepted the fight.

Dec. 26, 1908, in Sydney, Australia, the much-anticipated fight began, and it became obvious that Burns was no match for Johnson. The bout went into the 14th round when Australian authorities ended the contest. Johnson was declared winner. There was a new heavyweight champion of the world, and his name was Jack.

Johnson died in an automobile accident on June 10, 1946, near Franklinton, a small town outside of Raleigh, North Carolina. He was 68.



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