Texas: heavyweight champ Jack Johnson was arrested for boxing in 1903 in Galveston.
Johnson, who was born in Galveston
and honed his physical skills by lifting cotton
bales as a youngster in the Newton County river port of Belgrade,
became the heavyweight title in 1910 when he defeated Jim Jeffries.
eight years earlier, Johnson was thrown in jail in Galveston
for violating a state law banning boxing.
Johnson was born of poor black
parents in 1878, the second of six children of former slave Henry Johnson and
his wife Tiny.
He kicked around Texas
picking up odd jobs as a dockworker, porter, and barberıs helper. He began his
boxing career as a sparring partner and participated in "battles royal"
where black youths fought each other and white spectators threw money to the winner.
Johnson left Galveston
shortly after his 1901 arrest and began wandering the U.S., fighting and gaining
admiration for his toughness.
1903, he won the Negro heavyweight championship. Jeffries, the reigning white
heavyweight champion, refused to cross the color line and meet Johnson in the
When Johnson defeated Tommy Burns in Australia to technically win
the heavyweight title, he wasnıt officially recognized until he defeated Jeffries
in Las Vegas in 1910.
Jeffries was the first in a series of recruited
"white hopes" to fight Johnson.
In 1913 Johnson fled the U.S.
after a contrived conviction for a violation of the Mann Act, which forbade the
transportation of white women interstate for the purpose of prostitution. Facing
a prison term, Johnson toured Europe, Canada and Mexico.
He lost his championship to white challenger Jess Willard in Cuba in 1915.
Johnson returned to the U.S. in 1920, was jailed in Leavenworth, and became
the prison's athletic director. After his release, he returned to boxing, but
his professional career was over. For most of his life, Johnson was a non-conformist,
turning to fast cars, white women, and expensive jewels. He often defied a hostile
press which criticized his "golden smile and white wives."
Following three marriages, Johnson died in a North Carolina automobile accident
in 1946. While Johnson was one of Galveston's
most famous athletes, the Island City has been reluctant to honor his life.
In the 1980s an artist erected a black-metal, modernistic sculpture in a
city park to honor Johnson, but the sculpture became the target of racist attacks
and salt air, and was removed.
27, 2012 Column
Bowman's East Texas >
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