This is Texas Originals. From Humanities Texas, for the advancement of heritage, culture and education.
Jack Johnson was born in Galveston in 1878. He went on to become the greatest boxer in the world and one of America's most famous celebrities. Johnson won the World Colored Heavyweight Championship in 1903, but could not claim the overall title because white fighters refused to face him in the ring.
That changed in 1908 when Johnson beat Tommy Burns to become the first African American World Heavyweight Champion. He defended his title against all comers, including retired champ James Jeffries. Jeffries announced his sole purpose for coming out of retirement was “proving a white man is better than a Negro.” Johnson knocked Jeffries down twice before Jeffries gave up in the fifteenth round.
The New York Times hoped Johnson’s win would “stimulate respect for equality and fairness.” To the contrary, unrest and violence followed. Johnson’s taste for fast cars and high living fueled the outrage.
In 1913, his relationships with white women led to a trumped-up charge of “transporting women across state lines for immoral purposes.” Johnson’s only real crime was his success, yet he spent a year in Leavenworth prison.
Despite declining skills, Johnson continued boxing into his fifties. In 1946, at the age of sixty-eight, Johnson died in a car wreck.
In 2002, the city of Galveston renamed 41st Street Jack Johnson Boulevard in honor of its most famous native son.
More information about Jack Johnson and other Texas Originals is available at Texasoriginals.org. This program is produced by KUHF Houston Public Radio and Humanities Texas, with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities.