The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson

The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson

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The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson Ask someone who was one of the first people to break the color barrier in sports and you're almost guaranteed that the answer is Jackie Robinson. Yet almost 40 years earlier there was a black boxer by the name of Jack Johnson, also known as John Arthur Johnson. Most would argue that he was the best heavyweight boxer of his time, having a career record of 79 wins and 8 losses, and being the first black to be the Heavyweight champion of the World. (Jack Johnson (boxer), October 9th, 2006.) Not only was this impressive, but he had to deal with racism and black oppression.

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Johnson was born in Galveston, Texas, in 1878. Both of his parents were former slaves and worked blue collar jobs to make ends meet for their six children. (Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson. January 2005.) Johnson's first fight was when he was 15, and by the time he was 18 he had already become professional. Shortly after, Johnson received training from a small heavyweight Joe Choynski. During this training, Johnson learned to be a more patient fighter, playing defensively and waiting for his opponent to make a mistake and then capitalizing on it. The media said this was cowardly and devious, but on the other hand, a few years later Jim Corbett, who was white, used the same tactics and was praised to be the cleverest man in boxing. (Jack Johnson (boxer). October 9th, 2006.) This proves the racism against blacks at this time in America. Just because this man was black, he was criticized for his tactics, while a white man using the same methods was praised. Another example of the racism of the time was that black men were allowed to box, but they were not allowed to fight for the Heavyweight Championship of the World, for they were deemed unworthy. (Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson. January 2005.)
The 6 foot 1 ¼ inches giant of a man finally won his first title when he won a 20 round victory over "Denver" Ed Martin to be named Black Heavyweight of the World. (Flatter. 2005.) For years, even though blacks were not allowed to fight for the major title, Johnson chased the reigning champ of the time, James Jeffries, for a fight. James Jeffries refused every time, saying he would not fight a black man and soon retired undefeated. (Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson. January 2005.) Eventually, after taking down many whites in unbelievable fights, Johnson won the World Heavyweight title, beating Tommy Burns in Sydney, Australia. The police had to stop the fight, with Johnson beating Burns unrelentlessly. Johnson was named the champion, and the black oppression was so bad at the time that in the lasting moments of the fight, the camera was turned off as to not show Johnson being named the winner. (Jack Johnson (boxer). October 9th, 2006.)
Johnson finally got his glory after beating John Jeffries in front of a crowd of 22,000 in downtown Reno. "The Fight of the Century" ended after a 15th round knockout by Johnson. Johnson won an unheard amount of $115,000, which silenced his critics. (Flatter. 2005.)
Unfortunately, Johnson started to fall into trouble after this. Johnson was known to be promiscuous and was divorced several times on the grounds of infidelity. His trouble started when he bought a ticket for one of his girlfriends to go from one state to another. This violated a newly passed law, passed to avoid interstate prostitution. Johnson was convicted to a year in prison, but he and his girlfriend fled the country. He spent the next 7 years of his life in Paris, Mexico, Canada, Spain, and Argentina fighting for measly purses. Johnson finally met his match in Jess Willard, when a devastating punch in the 26th round knocked Johnson out. Society today still believes that Johnson threw the fight for an unknown reason. His boxing career finally ended with Johnson being banned from boxing by his participating in unsanctioned fights. (Flatter. 2005.)
Johnson lived life fast and dangerous, and that is probably what ended his life, as he was killed in a car crash near Raleigh. Johnson will not only be remembered for trying to set free America from oppression, but also for his habits. Johnson owned a Chicago night club, drove fancy yellow sports cars, acted on stage, walked his pet leopard while sipping Champaign, and taunted and boasted about his conquest of the whites. (Flatter. 2005.) Most might see this as pompous and egotistical, but I see a deeper meaning. Johnson lived by his own rules, and I believe he had these habits to prove he wasn't going to let racism bother him. I believe that Johnson was hinting towards other blacks to follow his example, and to stand up for their rights. I believe that Ken Burns put it best: "He absolutely refused to play by the rules set by the white establishment, or even those of the black community. In that sense, he fought for freedom not just as a black man, but as an individual." (Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson. January 2005.)
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