Johnson, Jack, 1878-1946

Alternative names
Birth 1878-03-31
Death 1946-06-10

Biographical notes:

John "Jack" Arthur Johnson (1878-1946), professional boxing's heavyweight champion from 1908 to 1915, began boxing while working as a longshoreman in Galveston, Texas. In 1899 he toured America with other black fighters, and by 1902 he had established himself as a fearsome contender for the heavyweight title. But the racism then prevalent in the boxing business prevented him from realizing quick success with his skills, and Johnson was compelled to devise a vaudeville act to maintain an increasingly flamboyant lifestyle. By 1908 Johnson had fought fifty-seven matches, winning all but three, and had beaten all contenders for the title, thus finally earning a match with champion Tommy Burns. They fought in Sydney, Australia, and Johnson won in fourteen rounds. His victory, however, was unfavorably received by racists, and many began clamoring for a "great white hope" to take the title from Johnson. Former champion Jim Jeffries, who had retired as undefeated champion in 1905, was prompted to fight Johnson. Their fight ended in fifteen rounds when Johnson knocked out the challenger. In the years immediately following his title defense, Johnson was involved in several scandals; one resulted in a trial in which the boxer was convicted of transporting a woman across state lines for immoral purposes, a violation of the Mann Act. Protesting the decision, he fled to Europe and worked there as an entertainer. In 1915 he agreed to fight another "white hope," Jess Willard. Held in Havana, Cuba, the match lasted twenty-six rounds before Johnson was knocked out. After losing the title to Willard, Johnson returned to Europe and resumed working as a performer. In 1920 he came back to the United States to serve his sentence. Upon release from prison, Johnson supported himself by boxing, lecturing, and selling stocks.

From the description of Johnson, John A. (John Arthur), 1878-1946 (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration). naId: 10610251

Heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson (1878-1946) was the first African-American boxer to win the heavyweight title. A controversial figure, Johnson was famous for the furor that surrounded his heavyweight championship, his flamboyant lifestyle, and his association with white women. His victory against retired boxer Jim Jefferies, who was referred to in the press as "the great white hope," triggered riots in many cities throughout the United States. Johnson lost his title in 1915 against white boxer Jess Willard, and continued to box until 1938, when he fought his last professional fight.

From the description of Jack Johnson scrapbooks, 1908-1944. (New York Public Library). WorldCat record id: 703432038


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  • Boxing--History
  • Sports--History
  • Boxers (Sports)
  • African American athletes
  • African American boxers


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  • United States (as recorded)