As I am sure most people are aware of the prejudice black athletes faced in the past and how over the the past 100+ years boxing has lead the way in tearing down racial barriers to some extent bit by bit, thanks to the brave men who stood up to be the best when it seemed the world was against them. Jack Johnson is one who laid the path to help get boxing to where it is today.
At a time when lynching of black men was common place, any black man with the balls to not just go in the ring with a white man ,but to knock them out time after time takes bravery that we just can’t comprehend in today’s world , that’s the kind of man Jack Johnson was .
Once Jack Johnson had cleaned out all the black heavyweights to become “black heavyweight champ” he embarked on a tour round the world chasing down then World Champion Tommy Burns, who himself was touring beating the best every country had to offer .Johnson could be seen Ring side at each and every one of those fights heckling the champion, telling the crowds “this man has nothing on me,I would destroy this man” . Burns finally lost patience with Johnson in Sydney,Australia agreeing to fight Johnson for a purse of $30,000 on Boxing Day 1908 .During the the fight Johnson humiliated Burns,taunting him in the ring before punishing Burns that much that the local police entered the ring and stopped the fight for fear there would be a fatality naming Johnson the winner,now let that sink in ….a black man as the best heavyweight boxer in the world .
On his return to the US there was uproar that Burns had even given this 2nd class citizen a shot at the title as you could imagine the race was on to get this man back in his place,the press even printed pictures playing up to stereotypes picturing Johnson in cartoons with big lips or monkey arms .But in true Jack Johnson style he would not bow down or be phased by hate and set about destroying every single white challenger they put infront of him . In there frenzy to find someone to get the title back in white hands the media and press went searching for a great white hope .That came in the form of retired undefeated world champion James J Jeffries who agreed to come out of a six year retirement to take on Johnson. Jeffries didn’t bother himself with Johnson and was really badgered into this fight and given an offer of $120,000.
The fight was billed as the fight of the century and with all the racial tensions that surrounded all alcohol was banned in the arena in Reno .This was also one of the first fights where pre recorded rights had been sold, with the view of packing out cinemas to show the world “the great white hope ” taking back the world title. Well Johnson didn’t read the script,with his counter punching style he nulled Jeffries ,and after having him down twice Jeffries corner threw n the towel , an action that had reverberation across America . The riots that followed Johnson’s victory saw destruction and violence unseen since the Civil War .There was actually murders attributed to Jack Johnson taking the picked man apart ,Infact it got that bad US congress passed a law banning the recordings being showed ,a law that would be in place for the next 20 years .
If what Jack Johnson was doing in the ring was causing white America to go crazy ,what he was doing outside the ring was making him public enemy No1. Johnson like many heavyweight champs loved the party lifestyle,he also used to love white woman ,marrying Etta Terry who he cheated on repeatedly causing the woman to end her own life . His next wife who he married a month after Etta’s death was Lucile Cameron,this marriage actually had two state governors calling for him to be Lynched and his marriage annulled because again she was a white woman ,these governors might not have got there wish but it did show the target on Johnson’s back. Before Johnson had married Lucile she had went on tour with him as part of his auntrage crossing over state line as Johnson went on beating the best the sport had to offer, this would prove to be his downfall. Investigators had been told to find something,anything to bring Him down and after months of checking every aspect of his life the only thing they could come up with was He had violated the “Mann act” a law which ironically was brought in to combat slave trading .The state accused Johnson of taking a prostitute (Lucile,Johnson‘s now wife) across state lines for “immoral purpose” but his wife would not take part in so the case collapsed but a few months later the a similar charge was brought because He had took another white woman over state lines before the Mann act was even in place . An all white jury sentenced him to a year in jail causing the champ to go on the run .
After all these blatant attacks on Johnson over his full life the man was still a patriot to his country. When the Second World War kicked off Jack Johnson was in his 70s he was still putting on exibitions to raise money to fund the American War effort still with that smile on his face which he had his whole life, no matter what was thrown at him. I firmly believe Jack Johnson laid the foundations for the next generations to take up the fight .