International Boxing Hall of Fame

Jack Johnson

"The Galveston Giant"

CLICK HERE Jack Johnson's complete record from

"Jack learned his trade thoroughly. Much like Bob Fitzsimmons, Johnson had a constantly inquisitive brain and refused to accept textbook teaching that he believed to be wrong or too constricting. Such was his dedication and sheer bloody-mindedness, he even worked at bucking biological constants. Yes, an orthodox man�s right arm will always be stronger than his left. But as Jack saw it, one could still shorten the odds on that little equation. He worked tirelessly at making the strength and power of his left arm almost the equal to that of his right."

-- Mike Casey

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Jack Johnson
Real name Arthur John Johnson
Nickname(s) Galveston Giant
Rated at Heavyweight
Height ft 1.5 in (1.87 m)
Reach 74 in (190 cm)
Nationality Flag of the United States American
Birth date March 31, 1878(1878-03-31)
Birth place Galveston, Texas
Death date June 10, 1946 (aged 68)
Death place Raleigh, North Carolina
Stance Orthodox
Boxing record
Total fights 124
Wins 89 (KO 49)
Wins by KO {{{KO}}}
Losses 14 (KO 7)
Draws 12
No contests 9

Arthur John Johnson (March 31, 1878 June 10, 1946), better known as Jack Johnson and nicknamed the �Galveston Giant�, was an American boxer and arguably the best heavyweight of his generation. He was the first black Heavyweight Champion of the World (1908-1915). In a documentary about his life, Ken Burns notes: �For more than thirteen years, Jack Johnson was the most famous, and the most notorious African-American on Earth.�[1]

Early life

Jack Johnson was born in Galveston, Texas as the second child and first son of Henry and Tina �Tiny� Johnson, former slaves, who both worked blue-collar jobs to earn enough to raise six children and taught them how to read and write. Jack Johnson had five years of formal education.[1]

Professional boxing career

Johnson's boxing style was very distinctive. He developed a more patient approach than was customary in that day: playing defensively, waiting for a mistake, and then capitalizing on it. Johnson always began a bout cautiously, slowly building up over the rounds into a more aggressive fighter. He often fought to punish his opponents rather than knock them out, endlessly avoiding their blows and striking with swift counters. He always gave the impression of having much more to offer and, if pushed, he could punch quite powerfully. Johnson's style was very effective, but it was criticized in the white press as being cowardly and devious. By contrast, World Heavyweight Champion "Gentleman" Jim Corbett, who was white, had used many of the same techniques a decade earlier, and was praised by the press as "the cleverest man in boxing."[1]

By 1902, Johnson had won at least 50 fights against both white and black opponents. Johnson won his first title on February 3, 1903, beating "Denver" Ed Martin over 20 rounds for the World Colored Heavyweight Championship. His efforts to win the full title were thwarted as world heavyweight champion James J. Jeffries refused to face him. Blacks could box whites in other arenas, but the world heavyweight championship was such a respected and coveted position in America that blacks were not deemed worthy to compete for it. Johnson was, however, able to fight former champion Bob Fitzsimmons in July 1907, and knocked him out in two rounds.[1]

He eventually won the world heavyweight title on December 26, 1908, when he fought the Canadian world champion Tommy Burns in Sydney, Australia, after following him all over the world, taunting him in the press for a match. The fight lasted fourteen rounds before being stopped by the police in front of over 20,000 spectators. The title was awarded to Johnson on a referee's decision as a T.K.O, but he had severely beaten the champion. During the fight, Johnson had mocked both Burns and his ringside crew. Every time Burns was about to go down, Johnson would hold him up again, punishing him more. The camera was stopped just as Johnson was finishing off Burns, so as not to show Burns' defeat.[1]

After Johnson's victory over Burns, racial animosity among whites ran so deep that even a socialist like Jack London called out for a "Great White Hope" to take the title away from Johnson � who was crudely caricatured as a subhuman "ape" � and return it to where it supposedly belonged, with the "superior" white race. As title holder, Johnson thus had to face a series of fighters billed by boxing promoters as "great white hopes", often in exhibition matches. In 1909, he beat Victor McLaglen, Frank Moran, Tony Ross, Al Kaufman, and the middleweight champion Stanley Ketchel. The match with Ketchel was keenly fought by both men until the 12th and last round, when Ketchel threw a right to Johnson's head, knocking him down. Slowly regaining his feet, Johnson threw a straight to Ketchel's jaw, knocking him out, along with several of his teeth. Several of Ketchel's teeth were imbedded in Johnson's glove. His fight with "Philadelphia" Jack O'Brien was a disappointing one for Johnson: though scaling 205 pounds to O'Brien's 161, he could only achieve a six-round draw with the great middleweight.

In 1910, former undefeated heavyweight champion James J. Jeffries came out of retirement and said, "I am going into this fight for the sole purpose of proving that a white man is better than a Negro."[2] Jeffries had not fought in six years and had to lose around 100 pounds to try to get back to his championship fighting weight.

At the fight, which took place on July 4, 1910 in front of 22,000 people, at a ring built just for the occasion in downtown Reno, Nevada, the ringside band played, "All coons look alike to me". The fight had become a hotbed of racial tension, and the promoters incited the all-white crowd to chant "kill the nigger".[3] Johnson, however, proved stronger and more nimble than Jeffries. In the 15th round, after Jeffries had been knocked down twice for the first time in his career, his people called it quits to prevent Johnson from knocking him out.

The "Fight of the Century" earned Johnson $225,000 and silenced the critics, who had belittled Johnson's previous victory over Tommy Burns as "empty," claiming that Burns was a false champion since Jeffries had retired undefeated.

Riots and Aftermath

The outcome of the fight triggered race riots that evening � the Fourth of July � all across the United States, from Texas and Colorado to New York and Washington, D.C. Johnson's victory over Jeffries had dashed white dreams of a finding a "great white hope" to defeat him. Many whites felt humiliated by the defeat of Jeffries and were incensed by Johnson's comments.[1]

Blacks, on the other hand, were jubilant, and celebrated Johnson's great victory as a victory for their entire race. Black poet William Waring Cuney later highlighted the African-American reaction to the fight in his poem, "My Lord, What a Morning". Around the country, blacks organized spontaneous parades, gathered in prayer meetings, and purchased goods with their newly won gambling earnings. These celebrations often drew a violent response from white men.

Some "riots" were simply African Americans celebrating in the streets. In certain cities, like Chicago, the police allowed them to continue their festivities. But in other cities the police and angry white citizens tried to subdue the celebrations. Police interrupted several attempted lynchings. In all, riots occurred in more than twenty-five states and fifty cities. At least 23 blacks and 2 whites died in the riots, and hundreds more were injured. A few white people were injured when they tried to intervene in a crowd's beating of a black man.[1]

On April 5, 1915, Johnson lost his title to Jess Willard, a working cowboy who did not start boxing until he was almost thirty years old. With a crowd of 25,000 at the Vedado Racetrack in Havana, Cuba, Johnson was K.O.'d in the 26th round of the scheduled 45-round fight, which was co-promoted by Roderick James "Jess" McMahon and a partner. Johnson found that he could not knock out the giant Willard, who fought as a counterpuncher, making Johnson do all the leading. Johnson began to tire after the 20th round, and was visibly hurt by heavy body punches from Willard in rounds preceding the 26th round knockout. Johnson is said to have spread rumors that he took a dive,[citation needed] but Willard is widely regarded as having won the fight outright. Willard said, "If he was going to throw the fight, I wish he'd done it sooner. It was hotter than hell out there."

Personal life

Johnson was an early example of the celebrity athlete, appearing regularly in the press and later on radio and in motion pictures. He earned considerable sums endorsing various products, including patent medicines, and indulged several expensive hobbies such as automobile racing and tailored clothing, as well as purchasing jewelry and furs for his wives.[citation needed] Once, when he was pulled over for a $50 speeding ticket (a large sum at the time), he gave the officer a $100 bill, telling him to keep the change as he was going to make his return trip at the same speed.[1] Johnson was also interested in opera (his favorite being Il Trovatore) and in history � he was an admirer of Napoleon Bonaparte, believing him to have risen from a similar origin to his own.

Johnson flouted conventions regarding the social and economic "place" of African Americans in American society. As a black man, he broke a powerful taboo in consorting with white women, and would verbally taunt men (both white and black) inside and outside the ring. Johnson was not shy about his affection for white women, nor modest about his physical prowess, both in and out of the ring. Asked the secret of his staying power by a reporter who had watched a succession of women parade into, and out of, the champion's hotel room, Johnson supposedly said, "Eat jellied eels and think distant thoughts."[4]

Johnson married Etta Terry Duryea in late 1910 or early 1911. A Brooklyn socialite and former wife of Charles C. Duryea, she met Johnson at a car race in 1909, and their romantic involvement was turbulent. Beaten several times by Johnson and suffering from depression, she committed suicide in September 1911, shooting herself with a revolver.[1] Johnson then married, on 4 December 1911, Lucille Cameron, a young prostitute.[2] Both Duryea and Cameron were white, a fact that caused considerable controversy at the time. After Johnson married Cameron, two ministers in the South recommended that Johnson be lynched. The couple fled via Canada to France soon after their marriage to escape trumped-up criminal charges in the U.S.[1] Cameron divorced him in 1924 on the grounds of infidelity. The next year Johnson married Irene Pineau, also white; she outlived him. Johnson had no children.[3]

Prison sentence

In 1920, Johnson opened a night club in Harlem; he sold it three years later to an Irish gangster, Owney Madden, who renamed it the Cotton Club.

After fighting a number of bouts in Mexico, Johnson returned to the U.S. on 20 July 1920 and surrendered to Federal agents for allegedly violating the Mann Act against "transporting women across state lines for immoral purposes" He was sent to the United States Penitentiary, Leavenworth to serve his sentence of one year, and was released on 9 July 1921.[1] There have been recurring proposals to grant Johnson a posthumous Presidential pardon.

While incarcerated, Johnson found need for a tool that would help tighten loosened fastening devices, and modified a wrench for the task. He patented his improvements on April 18, 1922, as US Patent 1,413,121.

Later life

Johnson continued fighting, but age was catching up with him. After two losses in 1928 he participated only in exhibition bouts.

Johnson died in a car crash near Raleigh, North Carolina, in 1946, after racing angrily from a diner that refused to serve him.[citation needed] He was 68. He died just one year before Jackie Robinson broke the "color line" in Major League Baseball. He was buried next to Etta Duryea Johnson at Graceland Cemetery in Chicago. His grave is unmarked, but a stone that bears only the name "Johnson" stands above the plots of him, Etta, and Irene.


Johnson was inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame in 1954, and is on the roster of both the International Boxing Hall of Fame and the World Boxing Hall of Fame. In 2005, the United States National Film Preservation Board deemed the film of the 1910 Johnson-Jeffries fight "historically significant" and put it in the National Film Registry.

Johnson's story is the basis of the play and subsequent 1970 movie, The Great White Hope, starring James Earl Jones as Johnson (known as Jack Jefferson in the movie), and Jane Alexander as his love interest. In 2005, filmmaker Ken Burns produced a 2-part documentary about Johnson's life, Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson, based on the 2004 nonfiction book of the same name by Geoffrey C. Ward.

Johnson's skill as a fighter and the money that it brought made it impossible for him to be ignored by the white establishment. In a time in which African-Americans enjoyed few civil rights and in which lynching was an accepted extra-legal means of social coercion in many parts of the United States, his success and defiant behavior were a serious threat to the racist status quo. In the short term, the boxing world reacted against Johnson's legacy. But Johnson foreshadowed, in many ways, perhaps the most famous boxer of all time, Muhammad Ali. In fact, Ali often spoke of how he was influenced by Jack Johnson. He identified with him because he felt white America ostracized him in the same manner because of his opposition to the Vietnam War. In his autobiography, Ali relates how he and Joe Frazier agreed that Johnson and Joe Louis were the greatest boxers of all.

Popular culture

Southern punk rock band This Bike Is A Pipe Bomb has a song about Jack Johnson. It appears on both their Three Way Tie for a Fifth CD and split seven inch with Carrie Nations. Several hip-hop activists have also reflected on Johnson's legacy, most notably in the album New Danger, by Mos Def, in which songs like "Zimzallabim" and "Blue Black Jack" are devoted to the artist's pugilistic hero. Miles Davis and Wynton Marsalis both have done soundtracks for documentaries about Jack Johnson. There are also several references to Jack Johnson, made by the main character Ron Burgundy, in the movie Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy.

Miles Davis's 1970 (see 1970 in music) album "A Tribute to Jack Johnson" was inspired by Johnson. The end of the record features the actor Brock Peters (as Johnson) saying:

I'm Jack Johnson. Heavyweight champion of the world. I'm black. They never let me forget it. I'm black all right! I'll never let them forget it!

Folksinger and blues musician Leadbelly references Jack Johnson in a song about the Titanic. "Jack Johnson wanna get on board, Captain said I ain't hauling no coal. Fare thee, Titanic, fare thee well. When Jack Johnson heard that mighty shock, mighta seen the man do the Eagle rock. Fare thee, Titanic, fare thee well." The Eagle Rock was a popular dance at the time.

Alt-country performer Tom Russell wrote a song entitled Jack Johnson and it was recorded in 1993, with Barrence Whitfield singing lead vocals, on the album Hillbilly Voodoo. It is both a tribute to Johnson and a biting indictment of the racism he faced: "here comes Jack Johnson, like he owns the town, there's a lot of white Americans like to see a man go to see a black man drown."

Wal-Mart created a controversy in 2006 when DVD shoppers were directed from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Planet of the Apes to the "similar item," Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson.[5]

Ray Emery of the Ottawa Senators of the NHL sported a mask with a picture of Jack Johnson on it as a tribute to his love for boxing.

41st street in Galveston, Texas is named "Jack Johnson Blvd." after him.

Preceded by
Tommy Burns
WBA World Heavyweight boxing champion
Succeeded by
Jess Willard
NAME Johnson, Jack
ALTERNATIVE NAMES Johnson, John Arthur (full name)
DATE OF BIRTH March 31, 1878
PLACE OF BIRTH Galveston, Texas
DATE OF DEATH June 10, 1946
PLACE OF DEATH Raleigh, North Carolina


Jack Johnson, The Galveston Giant

�Master of Ring Science�


Cox's Corner Profiles

Jack Arthur Johnson, often called "Lil� Arthur" and the "Galveston Giant" by his contemporaries, became heavyweight champion of the world in 1908. In so doing he destroyed the colored barrier by stopping Tommy Burns in 14 rounds to become the first black heavyweight boxing champion. He had a 10 year unbeaten streak during which time he defeated all of the top fighters of the period. He fought the other highly avoided black fighters of his day, including the clever master strategist Joe Jeannette 10 times, the hard punching Sam McVey 3 times, and gave the great Sam Langford a beating in their only meeting. His championship reign covered the years 1908-1915 when the giant �white hope� Jess Willard finally defeated him.

The Ring Magazine, in an article, The 50 greatest heavyweights of all time (1998 Holiday Issue p 32), said that Johnson was �years ahead of his time stylistically, he revolutionized boxing footwork, defense, and the concept of ring generalship.�

One cannot judge entirely on the available film as Randy Roberts wrote in Papa Jack, �Watching the films of Johnson is like listening to a 1900 recording of Enrico Caruso played on a 1910 gramophone. When Johnson fought Burns film was still in its early days, not yet capable of capturing the subtleties of movement. Nuance is lost in the furious and stilted actions of the figures, which move about the screen in Chaplinesque manner, as if some drunken cutter had arbitrarily removed three of every four frames. When we watch fighters of Johnson�s day on film, we wonder how they could be considered even good. That some of them were champions strains credulity. They look like large children, wrestling and cuffing each other, but not actually fighting like real boxers, not at all like Ali captured in zoom-lensed, slow-motion, technological grace. But the films mislead.�

Consider that Nat Fleischer, the founder of Ring Magazine, who saw Johnson fight and those up to the Ali era, said, in his book Black Dynamite Vol 4., p. 6), �Jack Johnson boxed on his toes, could block from most any angle, was lightning fast on his feet, could feint an opponent into knots�he possessed everything a champion could hope for punch, speed, brains, cleverness, boxing ability and sharp-shooting.�

Fleischer also reported in 1958, that Johnson�s �mastery of ring science, his ability to block, counter, and feint, are still unexcelled.�

Jack Johnson is widely regarded as the greatest defensive heavyweight of all time. In recent years some revisionists have tried to downplay Johnson�s defensive capabilities, which is an injustice to both the man and those who saw him fight. The key to understanding the defensive mastery of men like Johnson, Joe Gans, and George Dixon comes in their ability to block an opponent's leads. That is where the old masters like Johnson truly shined. You have to jab to get inside and to set up your punches and they could block and pick off an opponent's jabs and counter. Trainer Eddie Futch said, that Ken Norton gave Ali 3 very tough fights because he knew how to block a jab with an open glove and counter-jab.

An interesting comparison can be made by looking at two different boxing training manuals one published in 2000 and the other published in 1943 (Naval Aviation Training Manual 1st edition). The old National Police Gazette�s often had famous boxers demonstrate their techniques. Some of these types of techniques can be seen in the Naval Aviator boxing manual but are absent from the modern instruction book. The modern manual is not at all bad showing parries, covering, and ducking, slipping, as well as shoulder and forearm blocks. The older book however also explains stopping (or pinning/trapping), cuffing, weaving, shifting (quick shift, drop shift, rear shift), folding, and open glove blocking �catching the opponent�s leads in the butt of the glove. The older masters had a greater variety of defensive techniques at their disposal than what is being taught in most gyms today.

It is noteworthy that although Johnson fought often and with only 5 ounce gloves, his defensive skills kept his face largely unmarked. This demonstrates his effectiveness as a defensive fighter.

John Durant wrote in The Heavyweight Champions of Johnson, �He was a genius in the ring. He was a flawless boxer with an almost perfect defense, and he could hit hard with either hand. A superb counter puncher, he was never off balance, always in position to hit, and he was a master of the art of feinting."

John McCallum stated, in his Encyclopedia, "Johnson was a reputation breaker. He could make most any opponent look bad, without looking invincible himself. It is doubted if the prize ring has ever known a more muscular champion. Yet despite his size, he used his colossal strength primarily for defense. He gave the lasting impression of always fighting under wraps of never going all out."

Johnson was like a bigger, stronger and more technically sound version of Roy Jones Jr, but with greater defensive capability. Johnson, like Jones was exceptionally fast, able to leap in with quick counters, was a strong puncher, and was a master feinter. His opponents were weary of his speed and power and he was able to dominate them without taking great risks. Unlike Jones, Johnson did not throw wide looping punches that exposed himself to counters, but instead held his hands properly and threw lightning quick straight punches outside and uppercuts safely from the inside.

Veteran fight manager Dan Morgan, who saw Johnson fight agrees, saying, "I had a feeling he could demolish an opponent any time he chose."

This fact is revealed by the descriptions given of some of his great fights with Sam McVey. In his second bout with Sam, billed as the "colored heavyweight championship", one reporter noted that McVey went through the "worst hell" ever witnessed in a Los Angeles prize ring. In their third meeting, Fleischer wrote, "It became pretty plain after the tenth round that Galveston Jack was the master." Mcvey took "blow after blow to the chin and Johnson kept sinking rights to the heart and left smashes to the stomach." McVey showed courage but, "In the twentieth round Jack decided he had punished Sam sufficiently and ended the contest with a right to the heart and a pretty left hook to the jaw." McVey took such a beating he decided he never wanted to face Johnson again.

Likewise, in his battle with Al Kaufman, the San Francisco Chronicle reported on Sep. 10, 1909 that "Kaufman badly whipped by Johnson in ten rounds. Kaufman hardly lays a glove on colored opponent, who is a marvel of cleverness." Johnson pitched a shut out, "All rounds for Johnson" the Chronicle reported.

The biggest fight of his career was against former champion Jim Jeffries, who came out of a long 6-year retirement "to win the title back for the white race.� In the days preceding the fight Johnson predicted, �Jeffries can�t touch me.� This turned out to be the case as Johnson dominated the hulking former champion from the very first round. According to the July 5, 1910 Chronicle, �Round after round Johnson handled the burly Jeffries as he pleased� and stated Johnson �blocked every punch� that the former champion attempted to land. The Chronicle said it was Johnson�s �body blows� that wore down Jeffries and eventually resulted in a knockout victory for the splendid black heavyweight champion.

Historian and writer Gilbert Odd discussed Johnson's ability in The Great Champions, �Jack�s skill at leading, picking his punches and whipping in precision blows was unequaled, so too was his uncanny ability to deflect punches aimed at him or to make them miss by a fraction of an inch as he drew back his head. His left jab was straight and true, his right-cross sheer artistry, while his uppercuts were devastating. He was an expert at drawing an opponent into his blows, and of course, as they advanced so met with double impact, �They just knock themselves out�, he was fond of saying.�

Johnson also used some unique tactics in the ring. Mike Aoki wrote that Johnson liked to �shoot a punch at a foe�s bicep while the fellow began to launch a haymaker. This not only kept the blow from arriving, but it gradually numbed or paralyzed the arm.�

Jack Dempsey said of Johnson, �He was the greatest catcher of punches that ever lived (glove blocker). And he could fight all night. He was a combination of Jim Corbett and Louis. I�m glad I didn�t have to fight him.�

Trevor Wignall agrees saying, "He could box as well as fight. He was a tremendously hard hitter, while, for a man his size, he was amazingly swift on his feet."

Some analysts have questioned the quality of Jack�s chin. But Johnson�s chin is not nearly as bad as some revisionists make it out to be. Prior to the Willard fight he was knocked out only by Klondike Haynes (Johnson quit after 4 rounds) and then by the wily veteran Joe Choynski both fairly early in his career and before he had reached his pinnacle as a fighter. After the Choynski loss he would not be knocked out again for 14 years.

Nat Fleischer rated Johnson as the greatest heavyweight up to the time of his death in 1972. He picked Johnson in a dream fight over Joe Louis. The reason is given in 50 Years at Ringside pp 80-81. Fleischer quotes Johnson as saying that Louis was "always off balance" and to beat a counter-puncher like Schmeling he had to "change his stance." Johnson said a "clever sharp shooter" with a good "right hand" could beat Louis. And that is precisely what happened in the first Schmeling fight. It was because of Johnson's prediction that Nat always thought that Johnson could beat Louis.

Johnson could also give Muhammad Ali a lot of trouble in a tactical boxing match. Johnson in his 1902 �colored heavyweight championship� match against Denver Ed Martin easily defeated a man who was said to have �the best footwork in the business.� In the first ten rounds they boxed with caution, but in the 11th round Johnson exploded with a right hand to the neck that dropped Martin. He went down four more times in the 11th round. Martin had a pretty good chin and his legs allowed him to survive the distance but Johnson won the 20 round decision and the title. The ease with Johnson could defeat a man with good footwork and a good chin demonstrates he could give Ali a mass of technical problems to solve.

Charley Rose who saw both Johnson and Ali fight said, (July 1966 Ring), "Johnson would have caught Clay's jabs like Willie Mays catches a baseball." Ali�s lack of properly placed parrying hand to block a jab (he held his right hand out to the side when he jabbed) would allow Johnson to counter Ali's jab. Johnson�s superior defense and technical superiority would offset some of Ali�s natural gifts of speed, and quick reflexes. When Ali made a mistake Johnson had the hand speed to exploit it with a quick counter. Observors such as Archie Moore and Eddie Futch also picked Johnson in a dream fight against Ali. It would be a very interesting fight.

Fleischer, as noted, rated Johnson # 1 on his all time great heavyweight list. Charley Rose rated him # 2. In McCallum�s 1975 �survey of old-timers� Johnson was rated # 2. Other historians who rate him highly are John Durant who considered Johnson the # 2 heavyweight of all time, Steve Farhood rated him # 3 in 1997, while Tracy Callis rates him # 2. Cox�s Corner considers Jack Johnson the # 3 heavyweight of all time.

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