Jack Johnson
800px-Jack Johnson 1915
Biographical information
Birthname: John Arthur Johnson
Nationality: American
Nickname: "Galveston Giant"
Height: 6 ft 1⁄2 in (1.84 m)
Reach: 74″ (186cm)
Weight class Heavyweight
Born: March 31, 1878
in Galveston, Texas, United States
Died: June 10, 1948
in Raleigh, North Carolina, United States
Boxing career information
Style/Boxing Stance:
Career record:
114 total bouts, 80 wins, 13 losses, 12 draw, 45 KO's, 14 no contests

John Arthur ("Jack") Johnson (March 31, 1878 – June 10, 1946), nicknamed the "Galveston Giant," was an American boxer. At the height of the Jim Crow era, Johnson became the first African American world heavyweight boxing champion (1908–1915). In a documentary about his life, Ken Burns notes, "for more than thirteen years, Jack Johnson was the most famous and the most notorious African-American on Earth."[1][2]

Early lifeEdit

Johnson was born in Galveston, Texas, the second child and first son of Henry and Tina "Tiny" Johnson, former slaves who worked at blue-collar jobs to raise six children and taught them how to read and write. Henry Johnson traced his ancestry back to the Coromantees of modern-day Ghana.[3] Johnson dropped out of school after five or six years of education to get a job as a dock worker in Galveston.

Early Boxing CareerEdit

Johnson made his debut as a pro on 1 November 1897 in Galveston, when he knocked-out Charley Brooks in the second round of a 15-round bout for what was billed as the Texas State Middleweight Title. In his third pro fight on 8 May 1899, he battled "Klondike" (John W. Haynes or Haines), an African American heavyweight known as "The Black Hercules", in Chicago. Klondike (so called as he was considered a rarity, like the gold in The Klondike), who had declared himself the "Black Heavyweight Champ", won on a technical knock-out in the fifth round of a scheduled six-rounder. The two fighters met again in 1900, with the first contest resulting in a draw as both fighters were on the their feet at the end of 20 rounds. Johnson won the second fight by a TKO when Klondkie refused to come out for the 14th round. Johnson did not claim Klondike's unrecognized title.

Joe ChoynskiEdit

On February 25, 1901, Johnson fought Joe Choynski in Galveston. Choynski, a popular and experienced heavyweight, knocked out Johnson in the third round. Because prizefighting was illegal in the state at the time, they were both arrested. Bail was set at $5,000 which neither could afford. The sheriff permitted both fighters to go home at night so long as they returned to spar in the jail cell. Large crowds gathered to watch the sessions. After 23 days in jail, their bail was reduced to an affordable level and a grand jury refused to indict either man. However, Johnson later stated that he learned his boxing skills during that jail time. The two would remain friends.[4]

Johnson attests that his success in boxing came from the coaching he received from Choynski.[5][6] The aging Choynski saw natural talent and determination in Johnson and taught him the nuances of defense, stating "A man who can move like you should never have to take a punch".[2]

Boxing StyleEdit

Johnson's boxing style was very distinctive. He developed a more patient approach than was customary in that day, basically playing with his opponents, often carrying on a conversation with ring-siders at the same time as he was fighting. Johnson would begin a bout cautiously, slowly building up over the rounds into a more aggressive fighter. When annoyed, he often fought to punish his opponents rather than knock them out, endlessly avoiding their blows and striking with swift counters. He always gave the impression of having much more to offer and, if pushed, he could punch powerfully. There are films of some of his fights in which he can be seen holding up his opponent, who otherwise might have fallen, until he recovered.

Those were the days when the (mostly white) patrons liked value for money, and it was a habit, especially for black boxers, to make the fight last a respectable time. With the many bouts a fighter engaged in, it was commonplace to have fought the same opponent as many as a dozen or even more times. So it is highly likely that the results of many of these fights were "pre-arranged," and also pre-determined to last a goodly number of rounds.

Johnson's style was very effective, but it was criticized in the press as being cowardly and devious. By contrast, world heavyweight champion "Gentleman" Jim Corbett had used many of the same techniques a decade earlier, and was praised by the press as "the cleverest man in boxing."[1]

Top ContenderEdit

Johnson beat former colored heavyweight champ Frank Childs on October 21, 1902. Childs had twice won the colored heavyweight title and continued to claim himself the true colored champ despite having lost his title in a bout with George Byers and then, after retaking the title from Byers, losing it again to Denver Ed Martin. He still made pretence to being the colored champ and claimed the unrecognized black heavyweight title as well. Johnson won by a TKO in the 12th round of the scheduled 20-rounder, when Childs' seconds signaled he couldn't go on. (He claimed he had dislocated his elbow.) The defeat by Johnson forever ended his pretensions to the colored heavyweight crown.

World Colored Heavyweight ChampEdit

By 1903, though Johnson's "official" record showed him with nine wins against three losses, five draws and two no contests, he had won at least 50 fights against both white and black opponents. Johnson won his first title on February 3, 1903, beating Denver Ed Martin on points in a 20-round match for the World Colored Heavyweight Championship. Johnson held the title until it was vacated when he won the world heavyweight title from Tommy Burns in Sydney, Australia on Boxing Day 1908. His reign of 2,151 days was the third longest in the 60-year-long history of the colored heavyweight title. Only Harry Wills at 3,103 days and Peter Jackson at 3,041 days held the title longer. (A three-time colored heavyweight champion, Wills held the title for a total of 3,351 days.)

Johnson defended the colored heavyweight title 17 times, which was second only to the 26 times Wills defended the title. While colored champ, he defeated ex-colored champs Denver Ed Martin and Frank Childs again and beat future colored heavyweight champs Sam McVey three times and Sam Langford once. He beat Langford on points in a 15-rounder and never gave him another shot at the title, either when he was colored champ or the world heavyweight champ.

Johnson, Jeanette & LangfordEdit

Jack Johnson fought Joe Jeanette a total of seven times, all during his reign as colored champ before he became the world's heavyweight champion, winning four times and drawing twice (three of the victories and one draw were newspaper decisions). In their first match on 1905, they had fought to a draw, but in their second match on 25 November 1905, Johnson lost as he was disqualified in the second round of a scheduled six-round fight. Johnson continued to claim the title because of the disqualification.

After Johnson became the first African-American Heavyweight Champion of the World on December 26, 1908, his World Colored Heavyweight Championship was vacated. Jeanette fought Sam McVey for the title in Paris on 20 February 1909 and was beaten, but later took the title from McVey in a 49-round bout on April 17 of that year in Paris for a $6,000 purse. Sam Langford subsequently claimed the title during Jeanette's reign after Johnson refused to defend the World Heavyweight Championship against him. Eighteen months later, Jeanette lost the title to Langford.

During his reign as world champ, Johnson never again fought Jeanette despite numerous challenges and avoided Langford, who won the colored title a record five times. Johnson had fought Langford once while he was the colored champ and beaten him on points in a 15-rounder.

On 27 November 1945, Johnson finally stepped back into the ring with Joe Jeanette. The 67-year-old Johnson squared off against the 66-year-old Jeanette in an exhibition held at a New York City rally to sell war bonds. Fellow former colored heavyweight champ Harry Wills also participated in the exhibition.

World Heavyweight ChampionEdit

Johnson's efforts to win the world heavyweight title were thwarted, as world heavyweight champion James J. Jeffries refused to face him then. Black and white boxers could meet in other competitions, but the world heavyweight championship was off limits to them.

However, Johnson did fight former champion Bob Fitzsimmons in July 1907, and knocked him out in two rounds.[1] There is a report that Johnson even fought and KO'd Jim Jeffries' brother Jack, and taunted him about it to force a fight, with no success.

Johnson finally won the world heavyweight title on December 26, 1908, a full six years after lightweight champion Joe Gans became the first African American boxing champion. Johnson's victory over the reigning world champion, Canadian Tommy Burns, in Sydney, Australia, came after stalking Burns around the world for two years and taunting him in the press for a match.[7] The fight lasted fourteen rounds[8] before being stopped by the police in front of over 20,000 spectators. The title was awarded to Johnson on a referee's decision as a knockout.

After Johnson's victory over Burns, racial animosity among whites ran so deep that it was called out for a "Great White Hope" to take the title away from Johnson.[9] As title holder, Johnson thus had to face a series of fighters each billed by boxing promoters as a "great white hope," often in exhibition matches. In 1909, he beat Frank Moran, Tony Ross, Al Kaufman, and the middleweight champion Stanley Ketchel.

The match with Ketchel was originally thought to have been an exhibition, and in fact it was fought by both men that way, until the 12th round, when Ketchel threw a right to Johnson's head, knocking him down. Quickly regaining his feet, and very annoyed, Johnson immediately dashed straight at Ketchell and threw a single punch, an uppercut, a punch for which he was famous, to Ketchel's jaw, knocking him out. One of the most pervasive myths is that several of Ketchel's teeth stuck in Johnson's glove, because the filmed fight shows Johnson touching his wrist after having knocked Ketchell out. However, former lightweight champion Jimmy Britt swore that this did not happen, but that his brother Willus, who was Ketchell's manager at the time, found a tooth in a ring somewhere, and later had it mounted on his watchchain. When Willus unexpectedly died, he inherited the gold watch and chain, in a collection of his personal belongings, which shortly disappeared, and he never recovered it. Even a casual inspection of the saggy horsehair-filled 5 oz. gloves would show that it would be impossible for teeth to stick to a glove, apart from the fact that it would have been the only time in recorded boxing history that such a thing had occurred.

Johnson's fight 4 months earlier with Philadelphia Jack O'Brien had been a disappointing one for Johnson: though weighing 205 pounds (Bad rounding hereScript error kg) to O'Brien's 161 pounds (Bad rounding hereScript error kg), he could only achieve a six-round draw with the great middleweight.

The "Fight of the Century"Edit

File:Johnson jeff.jpg

In 1910, former undefeated heavyweight champion James J. Jeffries came out of retirement to challenge Johnson. He had not fought in six years and had to lose well over 100 pounds to get back to his championship fighting weight. Initially Jeffries had no interest in the fight being quite happy as an alfalfa farmer. But those who wanted to see Johnson defeated badgered Jeffries unmercifully for months, and also offered him an unheard sum of money, reputed to be about $120,000 and he finally acquiesced.

Jeffries remained mostly hidden from media attention until the day of the fight, meanwhile Johnson was soaking up the spotlight. John L. Sullivan who made boxing championships a popular and esteemed spectacle stated that Johnson was in such good physical shape compared to Jeffries that he could only lose if he had a lack of skill on the day. Before the fight, Jeffries remarked "It is my intention to go right after my opponent and knock him out as soon as possible." while his wife added "I'm not interested in prizefighting but I am interested in my husband's welfare, I do hope this will be his last fight." Johnson's words were "May the best man win."

Racial tension was brewing leading up to the fight and to prevent any harm to either boxer, guns were prohibited within the arena as was the sale of alcohol or anyone under the effects of alcohol. Behind the racial attitudes being instigated by the media was a major investment in gambling for the fight with 10-7 odds in favor of Jeffries.

The fight took place on July 4, 1910 in front of 20,000 people, at a ring built just for the occasion in downtown Reno, Nevada. Jeffries proved unable to impose his will on the younger champion and Johnson dominated the fight. By the 15th round, after Jeffries had been knocked down twice for the first time in his career, Jeffries corner threw in the towel to end the fight and prevent Jeffries from having a knock out on his record. Johnson later remarked he knew the fight was over in the 4th round when he landed an uppercut and saw the look on Jeffries face, stating "I knew what that look meant. The old ship was sinking."

The "Fight of the Century" earned Johnson $65,000 and silenced the critics, who had belittled Johnson's previous victory over Tommy Burns as "empty," claiming that Burns was a false champion since Jeffries had retired undefeated. John L. Sullivan commented after the fight that never had a fight been one-sided and that Johnson fought fairly at all times.

Riots and aftermathEdit

The outcome of the fight triggered race riots that evening—the Fourth of July—all across the United States, from Texas and Colorado to New York and Washington, D.C. Johnson's victory over Jeffries had dashed white dreams of finding a "great white hope" to defeat him. Many whites felt humiliated by the defeat of Jeffries.[1]

Blacks, on the other hand, were jubilant, and celebrated Johnson's great victory as a victory for racial advancement. Black poet William Waring Cuney later highlighted the black reaction to the fight in his poem "My Lord, What a Morning." Around the country, blacks held spontaneous parades and gathered in prayer meetings.

Some "riots" were simply blacks celebrating in the streets. In certain cities, like Chicago, the police did not disturb the celebrations. But in other cities, the police and angry white citizens tried to subdue the revelers. In all, "riots" occurred in more than 25 states and 50 cities. About 8 blacks and 5 whites died in the riots, and hundreds more were injured. [10] Uvaldia Georgia July 4, 1910- Three negroes are dead and a number are wounded as the result of a race riot between negroes at a crosstle camp and whites of this city tonight. The negroes came into the town today and started drinking heavily. Their noisy conduct angered the citizens and a posse formed to Clean out the camp The whites opened fire on the negroes killing three. The other negroes fled into the woods. Roanoke Virginia July 4, 1910-One white man Joe Chockely has a bullet wound in his skull and probably fatally wounded is a net result of clashes here tonight following the announcement that Jack Johnson defeated Jeffries. The trouble started when a negro just heard the news from reno said; Now I guess the white folks will let the negroes alone. A white man replied no and the two clashed. Police had difficulty landing the negro in jail being compelled to draw their revolvers. Later a negro shot Chockely and escaped. Physican Armstrong say Chockely will die tonight. Houston Texas July 4, 1910-Charles Williams, a negro, had his throat cut by a white man on a street car when he cheered for Johnson. The negro died. [11] Washington D.C July 4, 1910- In a race riot one white man Thomas Mundle, an enlisted man of the united states Marine corps had his throat cut by a negro and died. Joseph Benham, another white man got into a fight with a negro and was stabbed, He died. [12] New York - July 4, 1910 George Crawford, a negro waiter had his head beaten in, he got into an argument with a white man over the Johnson Jeffries fight the white man beat him with a bat. The white man who did the beating escaped. Crawford was taken to the hospital but died. Mounds, Illinois July 4, 1910- One dead and one mortally wounded is the result of an attempt by four negroes to shoot up the town in honor of Jack Johnson's victory at Reno tonight. A negro police officer was killed when he attempted to arrest them. [13] Philadelphia July 4, 1910- Edward A. Valette, white, who was stabbed in a Johnson Jeffries race riot at woodside park has died. Shreveport Louisiana July 4, 1910- Henry Williams, a negro, was shot in the face by a white man after a argument over the Johnson Jeffries fight. He died. [14]

Film of the boutEdit

A number of leading American film companies joined forces to shoot footage of the Jeffries-Johnson fight and turn it into a feature-length documentary film, at the cost of $250,000. The film, known as Jeffries-Johnson World's Championship Boxing Contest, was distributed widely in the U.S. and was exhibited internationally as well. As a result, Congress banned prizefight films from being distributed across state lines in 1912; the ban was lifted in 1940. In 2005, the film of the Jeffries-Johnson "Fight of the Century" was entered into the United States National Film Registry as being worthy of preservation.[15]

In the United States, many states and cities banned the exhibition of the Johnson-Jeffries film. The movement to censor Johnson's victory took over the country within three days after the fight.[16] It was a spontaneous movement. Two weeks after the match former President Theodore Roosevelt, an avid boxer and fan, wrote an article for The Outlook in which he supported banning not just moving pictures of boxing matches, but a complete ban on all prize fights in America. He cited the "crookedness" and gambling that surrounded such contests and that moving pictures have "introduced a new method of money getting and of demoralization."[16]

Maintaining the Colour BarEdit

Ironically, the colour bar remained in force even under Johnson. Once he was the world's heavyweight champ, Johnson did not fight a black opponent for the first five years of his reign. He denied matches to black heavyweights Joe Jeanette (one of his successors as colored heavyweight champ), Sam Langford (who beat Jeanette for the coloured title), and the young Harry Wills (who was coloured heavyweight champ during the last year of Johnson's reign as world's heavyweight champ).

Blacks were not given a shot at the title allegedly because Johnson felt that he could make more money fighting white boxers. In August 1913, as Johnson neared the end of his troubled reign as world heavyweight champ, there were rumors that he had agreed to fight Langford in Paris for the title, but it came to nought. Johnson claimed that Langford was unable to raise $30,000 (equivalent to approximately $687,608 in today's funds[17]) for his guarantee.

Because black boxers with the exception of Johnson had been barred from fighting for the heavyweight championship because of racism, Johnson’s refusal to fight African-Americans offended the African-American community, since the opportunity to fight top white boxers was rare. Jeanette criticized Johnson, saying, "Jack forgot about his old friends after he became champion and drew the color line against his own people."[18]

Johnson v. JohnsonEdit

When Johnson finally did agree to take on a black opponent in late 1913, it was not Sam Langford, the current coloured heavyweight champ, that he gave the title shot to. Instead, Johnson chose Battling Jim Johnson, a mediocrity who, in 1910, had lost to Langford and had a draw and loss via KO to Sam McVey, the former coloured champ. Battling Jim fought former coloured champ Joe Jeanette four times between 19 July 1912 and 21 January 1912 and lost all four fights. The only fighter of note he did beat in that period was future coloured champ Big Bill Tate, whom he KO-ed in the second round of a scheduled 10-round bout. It was Tate's third pro fight.

In November 1913, the International Boxing Union had declared the world heavyweight title held by Jack Johnson to be vacant. The fight, scheduled for 10 rounds, was held on 19 December 1913 in Paris. It was the first time in history that two blacks had fought for the world heavyweight championship.

While the Johnson v. Johnson fight had been billed as a world heavyweight title match, in many ways, it resembled an exhibition. A sportswriter from the Indianapolis Star at the fight reported that the crowd became unruly when it was apparent that neither boxer was putting up a fight.

"Jack Johnson, the heavyweight champion, and Battling Jim Johnson, another coloured pugilist, of Galveston, Texas, met in a 10-round contest here tonight, which ended in a draw. The spectators loudly protested throughout that the men were not fighting, and demanded their money back. Many of them left the hall. The organizers of the fight explained the fiasco by asserting that Jack Johnson's left arm was broken in the third round. There is no confirmation of a report that Jack Johnson had been stabbed and no evidence at the ringside of such an accident. During the first three rounds he was obviously playing with his opponent. After that it was observed that he was only using his right hand. When the fight was over he complained that his arm had been injured. Doctors who made an examination, certified to a slight fracture of the radius of the left arm. The general opinion is that his arm was injured in a wrestling match early in the week, and that a blow tonight caused the fracture of the bone."[19]

Because of the draw, Jack Johnson kept his championship. After the fight, he explained that his left arm was injured in the third round and he could not use it.

Battling Jim's next fight, four months later, also was a title match. On 27 March 1914 in New York City, Sam Langford won a newspaper decision in a ten-rounder with Johnson. According to the New York Times, the coloured champ "won by a wide margin" because Johnson "failed to show anything remotely resembling championship ability."

Battling Jim fought Langford ten more times (including two more colored title matches). Two of the fights were draws, including their last fight on 22 September 1918, which was also Battling Jim's last pro bout. He faced Joe Jeanette five more times and did not win a single contest. Two of their fights were draws and their last fight on 20 August 1918, Battling Jim's penultimate pro fight, was a no decision.

Of the other former and future coloured heavyweight champs that Battling Jim battled, he won only one fight, against Harry Wills, because he broke his wrist blocking a punch in a non-title match and Johnson won by a TKO. Battling Jim lost his other two fights with Wills, and he lost all of the five fights he had with ex-champ Sam McVey in the post-Jack Johnson title shot period.

Battling Jim, who died during Spanish influenza epidemic of 1918, ended with a career record of 30 wins against 31 losses and six draws[20] when his newspaper decisions are factored in. Looking at his dismal performance with the top black heavyweights of his era and his inability to best a one-armed Jack Johnson, Battling Jim Johnson cannot be considered a top contender of his era or a worthy opponent when Jack awarded him the sole title shot given to a black heavyweight from 1908 to 1937.

Loss of the titleEdit

On April 5, 1915, Johnson lost his title to Jess Willard, a working cowboy from Kansas who started boxing when he was twenty-seven years old. With a crowd of 25,000 at Oriental Park Racetrack in Havana, Cuba, Johnson was knocked out in the 26th round of the scheduled 45 round fight. Johnson, although having won almost every round, began to tire after the 20th round, and was visibly hurt by heavy body punches from Willard in rounds preceding the 26th round knockout.

Johnson is said by many to have spread rumors that he took a dive,[21] but Willard is widely regarded as having won the fight outright. Willard said, "If he was going to throw the fight, I wish he'd done it sooner. It was hotter than hell out there."


After losing his world heavyweight championship, Johnson never again fought for the colored heavyweight crown. His popularity remained strong enough that he recorded for Ajax Records in the 1920s.[22]

Personal lifeEdit

File:Jack Johnson boxer.jpg

Johnson was an early example of the celebrity athlete in the modern era, appearing regularly in the press and later on radio and in motion pictures. He earned considerable sums endorsing various products, including patent medicines, and indulged several expensive hobbies such as automobile racing and tailored clothing, as well as purchasing jewelry and furs for his wives.[23] He even challenged champion racer Barney Oldfield to a match auto race at the Sheepshead Bay, New York one mile (1.6 km) dirt track. Oldfield, far more experienced, easily out-distanced Johnson, ending any thoughts the boxer might have had about becoming a professional driver.[24] Once, when he was pulled over for a $50 speeding ticket (a large sum at the time), he gave the officer a $100 bill; when the officer protested that he couldn't make change for that much, Johnson told him to keep the change, as he was going to make his return trip at the same speed.[1] Johnson was also interested in opera (his favorite being Il Trovatore) and in history — he was an admirer of Napoleon Bonaparte, believing him to have risen from a similar origin to his own. In 1920, Johnson opened a night club in Harlem; he sold it three years later to a gangster, Owney Madden, who renamed it the Cotton Club.

Johnson constantly flouted conventions regarding the social and economic "place" of blacks in American society. As a black man, he broke a powerful taboo in consorting with white women, and would constantly and arrogantly verbally taunt men (both white and black) inside and outside the ring. Johnson was pompous about his affection for white women, and imperious about his physical prowess, both in and out of the ring. Asked the secret of his staying power by a reporter who had watched a succession of women parade into, and out of, the champion's hotel room, Johnson supposedly said "Eat jellied eels and think distant thoughts".[25]

Johnson was married three times. All of his wives were white, a fact that caused considerable controversy at the time. In January 1911, Johnson married Etta Terry Duryea. A Brooklyn socialite and former wife of businessman Charles Duryea, she met Johnson at a car race in 1909. Their romantic involvement was very turbulent. Beaten many times by Johnson and suffering from severe depression, she committed suicide in September 1912, shooting herself with a revolver.[26]

Less than three months later, on December 4, 1912, Johnson married Lucille Cameron. After Johnson married Cameron, two ministers in the South recommended that Johnson be lynched. Cameron divorced him in 1924 because of infidelity.

The next year, Johnson married Irene Pineau. When asked by a reporter at Johnson's funeral what she had loved about him, she replied, "I loved him because of his courage. He faced the world unafraid. There wasn't anybody or anything he feared."[26]

Johnson had no children.

Prison sentenceEdit

On October 18, 1912, Johnson was arrested on the grounds that his relationship with Lucille Cameron violated the Mann Act against "transporting women across state lines for immoral purposes" due to her being an alleged prostitute and due to Johnson being black. Cameron, soon to become his second wife, refused to cooperate and the case fell apart. Less than a month later, Johnson was arrested again on similar charges. This time, the woman, another alleged prostitute named Belle Schreiber, with whom he had been involved in 1909 and 1910, testified against him. In the courtroom of Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the future Commissioner of Baseball who perpetuated the baseball color line until his death, Johnson was convicted by an all-white jury in June 1913,[27] despite the fact that the incidents used to convict him took place prior to passage of the Mann Act.[1] He was sentenced to a year and a day in prison.

Johnson skipped bail and left the country, joining Lucille in Montreal on June 25, before fleeing to France. For the next seven years, they lived in exile in Europe, South America and Mexico. Johnson returned to the U.S. on July 20, 1920. He surrendered to Federal agents at the Mexican border and was sent to the United States Penitentiary, Leavenworth to serve his sentence September 1920 as Inmate #15461.[28]

While incarcerated, Johnson found need for a tool that would help tighten loosened fastening devices, and modified a wrench for the task. He patented his improvements on April 18, 1922, as US Patent 1,413,121.[29][30] He was released on July 9, 1921.[1]

There have been recurring proposals to grant Johnson a posthumous presidential pardon. A bill requesting President George W. Bush to pardon Johnson in 2008, passed the House,[31] but failed to pass in the Senate.[32] In April 2009, Senator John McCain, along with Representative Peter King, filmmaker Ken Burns and Johnson's great-niece, Linda Haywood, requested a presidential pardon for Johnson from President Barack Obama.[33] On July 29, 2009, Congress passed a resolution calling on President Obama to issue a pardon.[34]

Later lifeEdit

Johnson continued fighting, but age was catching up with him. He fought professionally until 1938 at age 60 when he lost 7 of his last 9 bouts, losing his final fight to Walter Price by a 7th-round TKO. It is often suggested that any bouts after the age of 40 -which was a very venerable age for boxing in those days- be not counted on his actual record, since he was basically performing to make a living, for money. He also indulged in what was known as "cellar" fighting, where the bouts, unadvertised, were fought for private audiences, usually in cellars, or other unrecognised places. There are photographs existing of one of these fights. Johnson made his final ring appearance at age 67 on November 27, 1945, fighting three one minute exhibition rounds against two opponents, Joe Jeanette and John Ballcort, in a benefit fight card for U.S. War Bonds.[35][36]

On June 10, 1946, Johnson died in a car crash on U.S. Highway 1 near Franklinton, North Carolina, a small town near Raleigh, after racing angrily from a diner that refused to serve him.[37] He was taken to the closest black hospital, Saint Agnes Hospital in Raleigh. He was 68 years old at the time of his death. He was buried next to Etta Duryea Johnson at Graceland Cemetery in Chicago.[38] His grave was initially unmarked, but a stone that bears only the name "Johnson" now stands above the plots of Jack, Etta, and Irene Pineau.[38]


Johnson was inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame in 1954, and is on the roster of both the International Boxing Hall of Fame and the World Boxing Hall of Fame. In 2005, the United States National Film Preservation Board deemed the film of the 1910 Johnson-Jeffries fight "historically significant" and put it in the National Film Registry.

Johnson's skill as a fighter and the money that it brought made it impossible for him to be ignored by the establishment. In the short term, the boxing world reacted against Johnson's legacy. But Johnson foreshadowed one of the most famous boxers of all time, Muhammad Ali. In fact, Ali often spoke of how he was influenced by Jack Johnson. Ali identified with Johnson because he felt America ostracized him in the same manner because of his opposition to the Vietnam War and affiliation with the Nation of Islam.[39]

In 2002, scholar Molefi Kete Asante listed Jack Johnson on his list of 100 Greatest African Americans.[40]

Popular cultureEdit

Johnson's story is the basis of the play and subsequent 1970 movie The Great White Hope, starring James Earl Jones as Johnson (known as Jack Jefferson in the movie), and Jane Alexander as his love interest.

In 2005, filmmaker Ken Burns produced a 2-part documentary about Johnson's life, Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson, based on the 2004 nonfiction book of the same name by Geoffrey C. Ward.

Folksinger and blues musician Leadbelly references Johnson in a song about the Titanic: "Jack Johnson wanna get on board, Captain said I ain't hauling no coal. Fare thee, Titanic, fare thee well. When Jack Johnson heard that mighty shock, mighta seen the man do the Eagle rock. Fare thee, Titanic, fare thee well" (The Eagle Rock was a popular dance at the time). In 1969, American folk singer Jamie Brockett reworked the Leadbelly song into a satirical talking blues called "The Legend of the U.S.S. Titanic." It should be noted there is no convincing evidence that Johnson was in fact refused passage on the Titanic because of his race, as these songs allege.

Miles Davis's 1971 album entitled A Tribute to Jack Johnson was inspired by Johnson. The end of the record features the actor Brock Peters (as Johnson) saying:

I'm Jack Johnson. Heavyweight champion of the world. I'm black. They never let me forget it. I'm black all right! I'll never let them forget it!

Miles Davis and Wynton Marsalis both have done soundtracks for documentaries about Johnson. Several hip-hop activists have also reflected on Johnson's legacy, most notably in the album The New Danger, by Mos Def, in which songs like "Zimzallabim" and "Blue Black Jack" are devoted to the artist's pugilistic hero. Additionally, both Southern punk rock band This Bike Is A Pipe Bomb and alternative country performer Tom Russell have songs dedicated to Johnson. Russell's piece is both a tribute and a biting indictment of the racism Johnson faced: "here comes Jack Johnson, like he owns the town, there's a lot of white Americans like to see a man go down… like to see a black man drown."

Atlanta based "flower punk" rock band the Black Lips recorded a song on their 2009 album 200 Million Thousand called "Big Black Baby Jesus of Today" which features the lyric "You can't be the Jack Johnson of Today/Big Black Baby Jesus on the way."

Johnson was referenced in the film Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy and he is mentioned in the 1940 book Native Son by author Richard Wright. Furthermore, 41st street in Galveston is named Jack Johnson Blvd.

Wal-Mart created a controversy in 2006 when DVD shoppers were directed from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Planet of the Apes to the "similar item" Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson.[41]

Ray Emery of the Philadelphia Flyers of the NHL sported a mask with a picture of Johnson on it as a tribute to his love for boxing.

In the trenches of World War One, Johnson's name was used by British troops to describe the impact of German 150 mm heavy artillery shells which had a black colour.[42] In his letters home to his wife, Rupert Edward Inglis (1863–1916), who was a former rugby international and now a Forces Chaplain, describes passing through the town of Albert:

We went through the place today (2 October 1915) where the Virgin Statue at the top of the Church was hit by a shell in January. The statue was knocked over, but has never fallen, I sent you a picture of it. It really is a wonderful sight. It is incomprehensible how it can have stayed there, but I think it is now lower than when the photograph was taken, and no doubt will come down with the next gale. The Church and village are wrecked, there’s a huge hole made by a Jack Johnson just outside the west door of the Church.[43]

Jack Johnson was painted several times by Raymond Saunders.

In Joe R. Lansdale's short story The Big Blow, Johnson is featured fighting a white boxer brought in by Galveston, Texas's boxing fans to defeat the African American fighter during the 1900 Galveston Hurricane. The story won a Bram Stoker Award and was expanded into a novel.[44]

Johnson is the subject of the biographical comic book The Original Johnson, by writer/artist Trevor Von Eeden.[45]

In 2011, Jack Johnson was featured on EA Sports Fight Night Champion as downloadable content on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Johnson was part of the "Legends Pack" with Jack Dempsey, Floyd Patterson, Joe Louis, and Rocky Marciano.[46]

Johnson is a major character in the novel The Killings of Stanley Ketchel (2005), by James Carlos Blake.

In the opening scene of episode 6, series 1 (2010), of the British drama Downton Abbey, Mary Crawley, pushing her wheel chair bound cousin Matthew Crawley across the lawn in the Summer of 1918 says, "I shall have arms like Jack Johnson if I'm not careful."


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 Ken Burns, Unforgivable Blackness
  2. 2.0 2.1
  3. West, Sandra L. (2003). "Johnson, Jack". Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance. Infobase Publishing. p. 177. ISBN 0-8160-4539-9.
  4. Script error
  9. Flatter, Ron "Johnson boxed, lived on own terms"
  14. New York tribune .p.2 July 5, 1910 for accounts of post fighting riots
  15. Library of Congress "National Film Registry 2005"
  16. 16.0 16.1 Broach, Barak "The Johnson-Jeffries Fight and Censorship of Black Supremacy"
  17. Staff. Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–2012. Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Retrieved March 31, 2013.
  18. Rosero, Jessica. "Native sons and daughters North Hudson native and 20th century boxing sensation Joe Jeanette". Hudson Reporter. Retrieved 20 May 2012.
  19. "Jack Johnson vs. Battling Jim Johnson". BoxRec. Retrieved 22 May 2012.
  20. "Battling Jim Johnson". BoxingRec. Retrieved 22 May 2012.
  21. As fugitive, loser, prisoner and failure, Jack Johnson - 06.22.59 com (1959-06-22). Retrieved on 2010-10-26.
  22. Sutton, Allan; Nauck, Kurt (2000). American Record Labels and Companies - An Encyclopedia (1891-1943). Denver, Colorado: Mainspring Press. pp. 3-4. ISBN 0-9671819-0-9.
  23. Papa Jack, Jack Johnson and the Era of the White Hopes, Randy Roberts, Macmillan, 1983, page 132.
  24. Barney Oldfield, The Life and Times of America's Speed King, William Nolan, Brown Fox Books, 2002.
  25. Stump, Al. 'The rowdy reign of the Black avenger'. True: The Men's Magazine January 1963.
  26. 26.0 26.1 Jack's women
  27. Johnson boxed, lived on own terms
  28. Cleveland Advocate October 2, 1920
  29. Jack Johnson - Patent Drawing For A Wrench. (2010-06-29). Retrieved on 2010-10-26.
  30. U.S. Patent no. 1,413,121, John Arthur Johnson, Wrench, April 18, 1922
  31. "House seeks presidential pardon for boxing champ". The Argus-Press. Associated Press. 2008-09-27.,1822850. Retrieved 2010-12-27.
  32. "Senate urges Obama to pardon former champ". Lodi News-Sentinel. Associated Press. 2009-06-25.,4609887. Retrieved 2010-12-27.
  33. McCain calls for pardon for first black heavyweight champion Retrieved on 2009-04-01.
  34. Congress Passes Jack Johnson Resolution
  37. "Two champs meet", U.S.News & World Report, L.P., 2005-01-09. Retrieved on August 30, 2008
  38. 38.0 38.1 Jack Johnson at Find a Grave
  39. Muhammad Ali Biography. Retrieved on 2010-10-26.
  40. Asante, Molefi Kete (2002). 100 Greatest African Americans: A Biographical Encyclopedia. Amherst, New York. Prometheus Books. ISBN 1-57392-963-8.
  41. Horowitz, Adam, et al. "101 Dumbest Moments in Business",, 2007-01-23. Retrieved on January 23, 2007
  42. Jack Johnson
  43. "Rupert Edward Inglis". Retrieved 16 April 2011.
  44. "1997 Bram Stoker Awards"
  45. Glenn Hauman. "Helping out Peter David and Bob Greenberger"; April 17, 2009
  46. [1]

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