“How incongruous to think that I, a little Galveston colored boy, should ever become the acquaintance of kings and rulers of the Old World, or that I should number among my friends some of the most famous persons of America and of the world.” –Jack Johnson
(1st. Black Heavy Weight Boxing Champion)
Jack Johnson was the first Black American world heavyweight boxing champion.
White folks saw and felt Jack Johnson as one really bad Negra.
Black folks on the other hand saw and felt Jack Johnson was one really bad Nigger.
In the 1990’s I was asked to portray Jack Johnson in a very famous stage play called,
THE GREAT WHITE HOPE; it is a an enormous stage production with some twenty actors in total; I do not know of any play that has more actors in it. During the months of research on the life of Jack Johnson, I soon discovered too, that Jack Johnson was really a bad ass Nigger! I mean this in the most endearing way; Jack Johnson was the most outstanding black man of his times.
Jack Johnson was born on March 31, 1878 in Galveston, Texas.
He had 104 fights, 73 wins, 13 losses and he held the world championship belt from 1908 -1915.
Jack Johnson disturbed white America so bad that they would not allow another black man to compete for the heavyweight championship for twenty-two years, from 1915- 1937 black men were barred by the white establishment from getting an opportunity to fight for the “grand prize” of boxing.
In 1937 Joe Louis is allowed to fight for the heavyweight championship and it had been twenty-two years since a black man held the title and that black man was Jack Johnson. One of the many conditions Joe Louis had to agree to before he would get a title shot was to never, ever, have his picture taken with a white woman. He also had to agree that he should never gloat over beating the crap out of a white opponent. Jack Johnson really put the scare in white America and Joe Louis too.
The world heavyweight boxing championship belt is the “grand prize” of athletic sports since Onomastos won the belt at the thirteenth Olympic Games in Greece in 880 B.C.
On December 26th 1908 in a twenty-round boxing match for the world championship Jack Johnson became the first black man to become the heavyweight boxing champion of the world. There is a catch phrase associated with Jack Johnson and it’s called, THE GREAT WHITE HOPE; white America saw Jack Johnson as an abomination and they searched high and low for a great white boxer to whip his black ass and teach him his place in White America. Their search was in vain, they never found a white boxer to put Jack Johnson in his place or the place they felt he should be in.
Jack Johnson would not bend for white America, he was determined not to conform to what white America thought he should be. Jack Johnson was his own man, he was highly intelligent, and he knew the power given him being the world
heavyweight champion. He was wealthy beyond any black man’s wildest dreams, he also did things so outlandish white America thought he was crazy.
Jack Johnson was married four times, all of his wives were white women and his first wife , Etta Duryea killed herself because she found out Jack Johnson was having an affair with another white woman. In October 1912 Jack Johnson was arrested under the Man Act, which had been passed to stop Jack Johnson from bringing white prostitutes across state lines. A white woman named Belle Schreiber, daughter of a Milwaukee policeman was the woman Jack Johnson was charged.
Jack Johnson posted $15,000 bail and before his court date he sailed off to Paris, France. When he arrived in Paris he was hailed as a king. In the whole of Europe there were no laws preventing Jack Johnson from loving or being out in public with white women; it is noteworthy, Jack Johnson was a man who believed in marriage. In public and private he was a fine gentleman to each of his four white wives. I hasten to add, Jack Johnson was a wicked exhibitionist.
When he traveled abroad he carried no less that twenty suitcases and he also transported two of the most exotic automobiles money can buy, he wore Mink coats and Russian hats. The truth be told, white women sought him out and were introduced to him by other white men.
The rub to white America was Jack Johnson was a very, extremely wealthy Nigger that did not know his place.
His profile was worldwide, he was bigger than America, I dare say no athlete, not even the great Muhammad Ali was a
bigger sports figure in the world than Jack Johnson. After his fights riots broke out in all 50 states of the United States; blacks were hung from trees all over the South after Jack Johnson would beat some white boxer in the ring. White America could not stomach the fact that Jack Johnson beat the crap out of every great white hope they put in front of him. In Europe Jack Johnson was treated like a movie star; the crowds adored him wherever he showed his smiling face, in Paris, Brussels, Berlin, Vienna, Budapest, St. Petersburg, Madrid, Rome and even London. Only in white America was Jack Johnson looked upon as an abomination. Jack Johnson was not only the world heavyweight champ he was also an accomplished bullfighter (Matador) in Barcelona, Spain and in Paris, he worked as an actor. He was also a great entrepreneur in his home city of Chicago. In Chicago, Jack Johnson opened up a very elegant cafe called, “Cabaret de Champion” and on the walls of his cafe there hung a Rembrandt that he purchased while in Europe. Unlike many other prizefighters Jack Johnson was well read and he acquired enormous culture from his world travels and his contacts with leaders of art, science, politics, and industry. Jack Johnson loved listening to classical music and he even played the viol.
In October 1936, as an actor he played the role of Rhadames, the Ethiopian general in the Chicago Grand Opera’s production of Aida.
“Of course, I had dreams and desires that are common to youth, but never in the wildest moments of my boyhood imagination did I vision myself the champion fighter of the world and the first man of my race to attain that distinction. Never did I imagine myself in the picturesque costume of a Spanish matador, or the victor in the bullfighting arena, surrounded of the festival in historic Barcelona.”
I hasten to add, the very first bullfighting he took part in as a matador he killed three bulls in one day at Barcelona.
The Great White Hope is a Pulitzer Prize Winning play and it was later turned in to a feature film; in the stage play on Broadway and on film the actor was the great James Earl Jones. In the ad to sell the movie the quote read:
“JACK JOHNSON COULD BEAT ANY WHITE MAN IN THE WORLD.
HE JUST COULD NOT BEAT THEM ALL.”
( Film Director)
Charles Micheaux and Lisa Denton star in “The Great White Hope.”
Feb 1, 1994