Born in Galveston, Texas on March 31 1876 as John Arthur. As a boy Johnson worked as a cleaner and swept classrooms, working for the local milkman as well as other odd jobs.
He would develop a keen interest in boxing and started to train after work on week days. Not long after a few years of training, he would turn pro and debùted on 1 November 1898 when defeated by Charley Brooks.
Johnson was world champion for 7 years between 1908 right up to 1915. He would go on to fight until the 1940s in his 60s, still those last fights were exhibitions.
Much of his lifestyle was tarred with high levels of racism and extreme prejudice. In 1912 Johnson was convicted on behalf of the Mann Act for what was claimed as the raping of a white girl/woman. He would spend 1 year in jail.
Both of Johnson’s parents were slaves but ensured their nine children were educated and looked after them by working in cabins.
To observers, Johnson was one of the greatest boxers in history. He was in good shape and was 1.85 metres tall – 6ft 1ins, which in that era was huge.
Due to the severe racism under the Tim Crow law in the south, and other racial incidences, Johnson was forced to leave his country. He then went to Canada and then became a fugitive fleeing to Europe and France, where he became a major celebrity.
Johnson would marry and date mainly white women – explaining why he was a prime target for supremacists and racists.
His boxing record is: Fights 114, Won 80, Lost 13, Drew 10, KO 45 and No Contest 5.
Jack did return to America and passed away in 1946 at 68.
Johnson was not such a graceful fighter, but he was as strong as an ox and a battler to the core.
His match with people favourite James J. Jeffries saw him the subject of racial abuse as Jeffries was a people’s favourite. And his fight with Tommy Burns was dubbed as ‘The Fight of the Century’ in the early 1900s.
Chris Emanuel Bailey