Who Was Jack Johnson?


All the major television networks carried a news story the other day about President Donald Trump giving serious consideration to granting a pardon posthumously to Jack Johnson, a heavyweight boxing champion who died quite a few years ago.

Johnson was a black boxer who fought a legendary bout against James Jeffries, an undefeated heavyweight champ who had retired from the ring in 1905.

I will get into the fight in a minute. But after the bout, Johnson was arrested for allegedly violating the Mann Act when he and his white girlfriend crossed state lines 'for immoral purposes,' according to the arresting FBI agents. He went to prison after being convicted of the charges. Prosecutors claimed Johnson had committed crimes 'against nature,' which translated to the fact that he, a black, had no business having sex with a white woman.

Actor Sylvester Stallone, who played 'Rocky' in a series of movies about a boxing champion, urged Trump to grant the pardon and from all the press reports I have read, the President is giving his request serious consideration as rightly he should.

Tex Rickard was a boxing promoter who lived in Nevada and who talked Jeffries into coming out of retirement in 1909 to fight Johnson. He called Jeffires 'the great white hope.'

A native of Texas, Johnson was the son of a minister and he welcomed the bout with Jeffries, knowing it would mean a big paycheck. Jeffries trained for nearly a year and decided to return to the ring for the fight of the century.

Boxing promoters swarmed over the fighters to make competitive offers to stage the match. They dangled checks for $5,000, quite a sum of money in those days. Tex Rickard ignored the checks. He pulled 15 $1,000 bills out of his pocket and threw them onto a table. He also guaranteed the fighters over $100,000 to enter the ring.

He won the bid.

The oddsmakers made Jeffries the favorite. He was the betting public's hope to take the title back from Johnson and gamblers dug deep into their pockets to bet on him.


At first the bout was scheduled to take place in San Francisco in an arena that would seat 30,000 people. But rumors began circulating that the fix was in and that Johnson would throw the fight. This did not sit well with citizens in San Francisco who were not thrilled about prizefights in the first place. They persuaded Gov. James Gillett to enforce a law on the books that would let him ban the fight. And that is what the governor did.

Rickard immediately boarded a train and traveled to Reno where he talked the city administration into building a 20,000-seat arena for the boxing match. They indulged his wishes and the arena was completed in less than two weeks, one day before the fight.

On the day of the match, the arena was packed with cowboys, ranchers, gamblers, sportsmen and pickpockets. Jeffries was still the favorite and people bet heavily against Johnson, nicknamed in the press as the 'Black Panther.'

The bout went 15 rounds. Johnson clearly was the better boxer, in superb physical condition, and he sent Jeffries reeling, battered and bleeding, across the ring.

Johnson threw powerful punches and knocked Jeffries down into a heap. People near ringside screamed, 'Stop it...stop it...he's killing him.'

Rickard, who had been chosen to be the referee, had no choice. He halted the fight and raised Johnson's hand, declaring him the winner.

Johnson was paid $70,600 for winning and Jeffries received $50,400. Rickard after paying all his expenses cleared $60,000 as his profit.

President Trump, give Jackson a posthumous pardon. He was a great boxer and he deserves it.

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