John Arthur Johnson

Black American fighter John Arthur Johnson

Black American fighter John Arthur Johnson, also known as Jack Johnson, was born in Texas' Galveston. March 31, 1878, was the birthdate and the year of birth. He had to leave school early because of his difficult upbringing in order to look for work that would increase the family's revenue. He started boxing at the age of twenty, and in 1908, after knocking out Tommy Burns, he became the first African-American heavyweight winner. He would continue to retain the title until 1915. At the age of sixty, he ended his career as a fighter. (Hickey, 2006). Before he met his death, he had fought one hundred and four fights out of which seventy-three were wins, thirteen losses, and ten draws and five had no contest.

Early life

John Jackson was the first son to his parents Henry and Tina, and they had a total of nine children and John was the third born. His father Henry was a role model to his son Jackson. The parents were slaves who worked hard to make sure the children got the right education and better lives. Jackson, however, had only five years of school and during his time his friends would describe him as brilliant, articulate and energetic. Most of his friends were white he never felt victimized as a result of coming from a different race as they would play and eat together and even spend time at their homes. At the age of sixteen he became independent travelling alone across cities, for instance, New York and Boston before coming back to his hometown and in this period, he began his first fight (Teresa, 2017). His confidence and strong desire to achieve led to his victory and it marked the beginning of success in his career as a boxer.


John Jackson began his career as a professional boxer at the age of 20 in his hometown Texas in the year 1898 the result was a win after defeating Charley Brooks. In the year 1899, he knocked out Johnson in the fifth round getting a bigger opportunity John Haines was also an African-American. In the year 1901, he fought Joe Choynski an illegal fight that led to their arrest and later imprisonment. Since Joe was experienced than John, it became an opportunity for John to learn also gain skills that would help him in his professional life. In 1903, he defeated Denver Ed Martin in a 20-round match he won his first title, and he defended it for five years to the year 1908. In the year 1908, Tommy Burns of Canadian origin the world heavy weight champion in 1906 agreed to fight John Jackson after James Jeffries had refused to fight John because of different racial background. Jackson beat Tommy Burns and became the first heavy weight champion of black origin in the world (Teresa, 2017). He remained the champion to the year 1915 when he was defeated by Jess Willard he, however, continued to fight to the age of sixty professionally.

Boxing style

Jackson had a style of fighting that was unique at that period that led him to emerge out as a winner. In most of the fights, he would employ a strategy of defense till the opponent was exhausted. He was useful in dodging and striking back. The media, however, criticized him for using tactics like those of a coward (Teresa, 2017). Jim Corbet in contrast who fought with the same style received praise and even some media reporting him as the cleverest.

Fight of the century

James Jeffries an undefeated champion who had already retired six years before the fight agreed to fight Johnson in the year 1910. It was a fight that would have more than twenty thousand people showing up at the event. The fight created racial tension and anxiety among the people and to protect the boxers, and there was a prohibition of guns within the stadium and any sale of alcoholic drinks. Johnson emerged out as the winner earning sixty-five thousand dollars, and these would reduce the critics of his career even after defeating Tommy Burns. The victory of Johnson, however, led to divisions among races the whites felt humiliated and among the blacks it was excitement (Teresa, 2017). Riots were witnessed in more than twenty-five states and cities, for instance, New Yolk Atlanta, more than twenty people, lost lives and hundreds injured.

Personal life

John Jackson led a controversial life as he married more than once and all his wives were white a factor that would create hate. During the period, there was much negativity generated from interacting with people of different races and especially blacks who were viewed as inferior from the whites. Jackson married her first wife Etta Duryea in the year 1911 the marriage lasted only a year and out of the physical abuse she committed suicide in the year 1912. He was arrested in the same year for violation of law a factor that would put him in prison for one year. In the same year, he would marry the second wife Lucille Cameron they stayed together for twelve years she would later divorce him in the year 1924 from infidelity (Sorokowski, Sabiniewicz & Wacewicz, 2014). His last marriage was to Irene Pineau in both marriages Jackson did not have any child.


As a boxer, Johnson fought a total of one hundred and fourteen matches out of which eighty were wins and knock outs were forty-five. His skills in fighting influenced many players, for instance, Muhammad Ali. In the year 1954, his name was brought to the international boxing hall of fame. In the year 2002, Molefi Asante a scholar lists Johnson among the top hundred influential African Americans (Sorokowski, Sabiniewicz & Wacewicz, 2014). In the year 2012, his hometown Galveston would dedicate and name a park in his memory.

Turbulent life

The success of Johnson was received well by the black community. However, some individuals were waiting for his down fall. He loved a good life he was not afraid to spend his money, and these was visible through the type of cars he drove. In the year 1912, he broke the law by travelling with her girlfriend across states before they married each other. He was sent to prison a factor that would have him take exile in Europe for seven years. In the year 1920, he came back to serve his sentence (Hickey, 2006). Since his death, he has received more recognition, and the achievements make his name memorable in the boxing field.



Hickey, K. (2006). Boxing. London: A. & C. Black.

Sorokowski, P., Sabiniewicz, A., & Wacewicz, S. (2014). The influence of the boxing stance on performance in professional boxers. Anthropological Review, 77(3).

Teresa, C. (2017). A “Varied or Intense Existence”: Public Commemoration of Boxing Champion Jack Johnson. Howard Journal Of Communications, 28(3), 249-262.

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