Today I met a chap who will become one of Galveston’s most famous sons, John Arthur Johnson., better known as Jack. Right now he is an unknown. I found him in a front yard using a gunny sack full of sand as a punching bag. He has a lot of power and speed, but he still needs to learn form. Right now he’s only eighteen.
He came over to the fence and gave me directions.
I introduced myself, hoping he would verify my suspicions of who he was. He introduced himself as Jack Johnson.
“Are you a boxer, sir?”
“Yes, I am. I’m a professional. Last year Bob Thompson came to town offering $25 to anyone who could last four rounds with him. I won it.” Then he frowned. “I don’t think I can get very far in Galveston. I’m thinking of going up north, maybe to Chicago. I’m going to be the heavy weight champion someday.”
“I understand America is rather racist. Will they let a colored man even try for the title?”
“George Dixon is the featherweight champion of the world right now, and he’s colored. I’m too big to be anything else but heavyweight champion.”
“Well sir, someone will have to be the first colored heavyweight champion some day.”
“Might as well be me.” Johnson hit his gloves together and grinned.
I wished him luck and went on my way. Johnson went back to slugging his punching bag.
Jack Johnson does have quite a fight ahead of him, the hardest one being outside of the ring. He will have to fight Jim Crow. It’s almost impossible to find a white boxer that will consent to fight him. He will finally find a white boxer who will agree, veteran Joe Choynski. He’ll come down to Galveston to meet Johnson in the ring.
|Joe Choynski and Jack Johnson|
Johnson will rise through the heavy-weight ranks, until he is at the top by 1903. However the reigning champion, Jim Jeffries, will refuse to fight him because of his race. It won’t be until 1908, after Jeffries had retired, that Johnson got his shot--and won.
However, being heavyweight champion of the world did not ingratiate Johnson to the racists. They will complain he is too cocky, fights too aggressive and belittles of his opponents. Never mind that white boxers do the same thing at this time and are admired for it. To be honest he is only brutal to fighters who are racists.
|Jack and his wife Etta|
Jack London cried for a “Great White Hope” to defeat this “uppity” fellow. One after another challenged him and were beaten. Johnson often had to hold them up after hitting them. The great Jim Jeffries agreed to come out of retirement and finally fought Johnson. He later reluctantly admitted he couldn’t have beat Johnson in his prime. Jeffries would not have retired undefeated if he had played fair and agreed to fight Johnson back in 1903.
|Jim Jeffries getting knocked out by Jack Johnson|
film clips of Jack Johnson