Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Jack Johnson (boxer)
John Arthur Johnson (March 31, 1878 - June 10, 1946), better known as Jack Johnson, was an American boxer and arguably the best heavyweight of his generation. He was the first black Heavyweight Champion of the World, 1908-1915. His record is 113 fights with 79 victories and only eight losses, 12 draws and 14 no-decisions.
Jack Johnson was born in Galveston, Texas and is reputed to have fought his first fight, a sixteen round victory, at aged fifteen. He turned professional around 1897, fighting in private clubs. He was briefly arrested in 1900, as boxing was illegal in Texas.
He won his first title on February 3, 1903, beating 'Denver' Ed Martin over twenty rounds for the Colored Heavyweight Championship. His efforts to win the full title were thwarted as World Heavyweight Champion James J. Jeffries refused to face him. He fought former champion, Bob Fitzsimmons, in July 1907 and knocked him out in two rounds.
He eventually won the World Heavyweight Title on December 26, 1908 when he fought the World Heavyweight Champion, Canadian Tommy Burns in Sydney, Australia, after following him all over the world, taunting him in the press for a match. The fight lasted fourteen rounds before being stopped by the police. The title was awarded to Johnson on a referee's decision as a T.K.O, but he had severely beaten the champion. During the fight, Johnson had mocked both Burns and his ringside crew. Every time Burns was about to go down, Johnson would hold him up again, punishing him more. The camera was stopped just as Johnson was finishing off Burns so that nobody could actually see Johnson becoming the champion.
As title holder, Johnson had to face a series of fighters billed by boxing promoters as "great white hopes", often as exhibition matches. In 1909 he beat Victor McLaglen, Frank Moran, Jack O'Brien, Tony Ross, Al Kaufman, and the middleweight champion Stanley Ketchel. On July 4, 1910 he defeated James J. Jeffries, a champion who had earlier turned him down, with a K.O. in the fifteenth round in front of 22,000 people. The fight earned Johnson $115,000, and shut the mouths of critics who had belittled Johnson's victory over Tommy Burns as empty, referring to Burns as a false champion since Jeffries had retired undefeated. His victory sparked race riots and certain states banned the filming of Johnson's victories over white fighters.
But on April 5, 1915 the 37 year old lost his title to Jess Willard in Havana, Cuba. With a crowd of 25,000 for the scheduled 45 round fight Johnson was K.O.'d in the 26th round. The temperature was 105 in the ring. Some claimed that Johnson threw the fight but Willard said "if he was going to throw the fight I wished he'd done it sooner." He fought a number of bouts in Mexico before returning to the US on July 20, 1920 and surrendering to Federal agents for allegedly violating the Mann Act against "transporting women across state lines for immoral purposes" by sending his white girlfriend, Belle Schreiber , a railroad ticket to travel from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Chicago, Illinois. This is generally considered an intentional misuse of the Act, which was intended to stop interstate traffic in prostitutes. He was sent to United_States_Penitentiary,_Leavenworth to serve his sentence of one year and was released on July 9, 1921.
According to legend, Johnson attempted to buy passage on the Titanic's maiden voyage in 1912 but was denied because of his race, thus gaining the "last laugh" on the racists when it sank. This story is commemorated in the song "Titanic" by Leadbelly and a "toast", "Shine and the Titanic," by Arthur "Arturo" Pfister , of New Orleans, Louisiana.
He continued fighting, but age was catching up with him. After two losses in 1928 he participated only in exhibition bouts. He opened a night club in Harlem which later became the Cotton Club. According to a reporter, the story is that his wife, Lucille Cameron, divorced him in 1924 on the grounds of infidelity. Jack Johnson then married an old friend named Ms. Irene Pineau.
Jack Johnson died in a car crash near Raleigh, North Carolina in 1946 and was buried next to Etta Duryea in Graceland Cemetery, in Chicago, Illinois. He was admitted to the Boxing Hall of Fame in 1954.
His fighting style was very distinctive. He always began a bout cautiously before slowly building up over the rounds into a more aggressive fighter. He often fought to punish his opponent 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 really damage an opponent.
Johnson is also a member of the modern International Boxing Hall of Fame, which was erected in 1990 at Canastota, New York.
Johnson flouted conventions regarding the social and economic "place" of African Americans. As a black man, he broke a powerful taboo in consorting with white women, usually prostitutes, and verbally taunting white men both inside and outside the ring. Once when he was pulled over for a $50 speeding ticket, he gave the officer a $100 bill, telling the officer he should keep the change as he was going to make his return trip at the same speed. Johnson's skill as a fighter and the money that it brought him made him unable to be ignored by the white establishment. While the boxing world reacted against this legacy in the short term (Joe Louis was not able to box for the heavyweight title until he proved he could "act white", or in other words, not like Jack Johnson), he foreshadowed, in many ways, perhaps the most famous boxer of all time, Muhammad Ali.
Johnson was also interested in opera (his favorite being Il Trovatore), history, and automobile racing. He was also an inventor, holding at least three patents; two were associated with automobiles (presumably the result of his interest in them), an improved adjustable wrench and an anti-theft device . The third was a steam-powered heavy winch.
When asked why black men were so attractive to white women, Johnson supposedly said, "We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts."
- Geoffery C. Ward, The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson, Knopf, 2004
- Bob Burrill, Who's Who in Boxing, New Rochelle (NY), Arlington House, 1974
- Review of "Unforgivable Blackness," a 2005 Ken Burns documentary on Johnson
- Extended biography of Jack Johnson
- Famous Texans - Jack Johnson
- John (Jack) Arthur Johnson
- Harlem 1900-1940: Schomburg Exhibit Jack Johnson
- ESPN.com: Jack Johnson
- Cyber Boxing Zone - Jack Johnson
- Interview with Jack Johnson biographer Geoffery C. Ward
- CBS News - A Pardon for Jack Johnson
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