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Boxing Champion: Jack Johnson Legacy

Updated on September 13, 2019
L.M. Hosler profile image

Linda enjoys reading, learning and writing about different things. She enjoys sharing her love of writing and history with others.

Jack Johnson Championship Fight

Jack Johnson fights Tommy Burns for the Heavy Weight Championship Title I
Jack Johnson fights Tommy Burns for the Heavy Weight Championship Title I | Source

President Trump Issues Posthumous Pardon for Jack Johnson

Recently on May 24, 2018 President Donald Trump officially pardoned John Johnson former heavyweight boxing champion. Who was Jack Johnson and what crime did he commit that the president granted him a pardon years after Johnson’s death?

Jack Johnson is Pardoned by President Trump

Johnson's Early Years

John Arthur (Jack) Johnson was born on March 31, 1878; in Galveston, Texas not many years after the civil war had freed the slaves of the south. Johnson’s parents were former slaves Henry and Tina Johnson. Jack Johnson was one Henry and Tina’s several children and Jack did not receive much formal education. He was forced at a young age to drop out of school to take employment on the docks to help support his family. But Jack Johnson was a tall, large black man, who would not settle for just being a common dock worker. Instead, he set his sights on becoming the first African American heavyweight boxing champion.

Jack Johnson's List of Major Fights

Jack Johnson (nicknamed the Galveston Giant) formally began his boxing career on Nov 1st 1898 and followed with an amazing list of hard won fights.

  • Nov 1st 1898 Johnson won a fight against Charley Brooks in Galveston, Texas
  • May 8, 1899 he won against John Hayes in Chicago. The following year these two matched up again with this fight considered a tie
  • Feb 25, 1901 he fought Joe Choynski and lost
  • 1903 by this time Johnson had won 50 fights
  • 1903 Johnson fought Denver Martin and won. This fight earned Johnson the World Colored Heavyweight Championship
  • Dec 1926 Johnson fought Tommy Burns and became the first African American to hold the Heavyweight Boxing Championship title.
  • July 4th Johnson fought James Jefferies in a fight that was dubbed (the fight of the century) and Johnson won which led to race riots

Racial Tensions Arise

By this time Johnson had made a name for himself and he was a black man in an era of Jim Crow laws and racial tensions. The civil war wasn’t that long ago and Johnson soon found himself facing legal problems due to the fact that he was a colored man who had beaten James Jefferies a white man. There was much celebrating the fact that Johnson had won against a white man and this did not sit well with the white boxing world.

Jack Johnson also liked white women and had been married to two white women and he was involved with white prostitutes. This did not go very well during the time of Jim Crow laws.

Jack Johnson and his Wife Etta Terry Duryea

Boxing Champion and his wealthy wife pose for the cameras.
Boxing Champion and his wealthy wife pose for the cameras. | Source

Johnson's White Wives

Johnson’s first wife was Etta Terry Duryea. She was a wealthy white socialist from Brooklyn and the marriage proven to be a disaster. They were married from Jan 1911 until September 1912 at which time she committed suicide.

Johnson then met Lucille Cameron another young nineteen year old white girl from Minneapolis. Lucille’s mother was outraged that her daughter was dating a black man and in Oct 1912 she accused Johnson of kidnapping her daughter. The case went to trial but Lucille stood up for Johnson and refused to say that she had been kidnapped so the charges were dismissed. Lucille and Johnson were then married on Dec 4th , 1912 and later divorced in 1924

The Mann Act 1910

The Department of Justice failed to convict Johnson with the Lucille Cameron case but they quickly found another woman who was willing to testify that Johnson had taken her over the state lines several times. This woman was Belle Schreiber, another white woman he met in May 1913, who was a prostitute in a house that refused black men. However, Johnson persuaded Belle to travel with him several times, crossing the state lines. This violated the 1910 Mann Act which stated that it was a federal offense to travel over a state line with a woman or young girl with the intention of prostitution or any immoral act. Belle was persuaded to testify against Johnson and he was convicted of violating the Mann Act and sentenced to one year in prison

Evading the Law

Johnson was let out on bail as he appealed the court’s decision but he quickly decided that he was going to disappear. He eluded the police and headed for Canada where he joined up with his wife Lucille. From Canada they headed to France where Johnson managed to book some fights. However, World War I was about to begin and Johnson and Lucille headed south to South America.

Jack Johnson's Tombstone

Jack Johnson grave in Chicago
Jack Johnson grave in Chicago | Source

President Trump Issues Posthumous Pardon for Boxing Champion Jack Johnson

Jack Johnson Loses His Heavy Weight Title

In 1914 another fight was scheduled for the world boxing title. Johnson would face Jess Willard in the ring in Havana. Willard was younger and well trained for the fight but Johnson was favored to win. However, Willard managed to wear out Johnson and won the fight thus taking the Heavy Weight Boxing title from Johnson. It would be years before the boxing world would let another black man fight for any boxing titles.

After losing to Willard, Johnson returned to the USA in 1920 and turned himself into law enforcement and severed out a 10 month prison sentence. After his release he returned to boxing and continued fighting until he was fifty years old. In 1920 Johnson and Lucille were divorced and he later married Irene Pineau whom he remained married to until his death in a car accident in 1946 in North Carolina.

Jack Johnson the Legend

Jack Johnson was a boxing legend. He fought hard, loved white women and at times lived a life of luxury. He paved the way for other great African American boxers who would become world boxing champions. He was inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame in 1954 and the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1993.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 L.M. Hosler

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    • L.M. Hosler profile imageAUTHOR

      L.M. Hosler 

      3 weeks ago

      Ms Dora Thanks for commenting. Johnson certainly led the way for other great African American champions. I believe Johnson was quite a colorful character.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      3 weeks ago from The Caribbean

      What an interesting article! Thanks for the historical account of a story we all need to hear.Thanks to the senator who led the struggle on Jack Johnson's behalf and to the president for his "righteous act" of pardon.

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