Jack Johnson

Jack Johnson

Original Name John Arthur Johnson
Birth
Galveston, Galveston County, Texas, USA
Death 10 Jun 1946 (aged 68)
Raleigh, Wake County, North Carolina, USA
Burial Chicago, Cook County, Illinois, USA
Plot Bellevue Section, Lot 437 Space 6
Memorial ID 6125607 · View Source
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Professional Boxer, Civil Rights Figure. He was the first African-American to hold the heavyweight boxing championship in the world holding the title from 1908 to 1915, but received more notoriety for the violent reaction generated by the public protesting the famous status he gained as a Black man. Until his fight with Tommy Burns, racial discrimination limited Johnson's opportunities and purses. He had defeated Ed Martin in 20 rounds on February 3, 1903 receiving the title of “Colored Heavyweight Championship.” Johnson became the Worlds Heavyweight Boxing Champion in Sydney, Australia on December 26, 1908 after beating Burns. When he became champion, cries of protest for a "Great White Hope" produced numerous white opponents, which he defeated. He further offended white racists by knocking out former champion James J. Jeffries on July 4, 1910 in Reno, Nevada earning $225,000. This was called the “Fight of the Century” with Jeffries being induced from his 1905 retirement as a "Great White Hope.”. As a result of this championship win, racial riots occurred in 50 cities throughout the United States with twenty people being killed, many randomly and innocent, and hundreds more injured. At the height of his career, Johnson was chastised by the press for marrying white women. A published caricature crudely spoofed him as a subhuman "ape." According to his 1927 autobiography, he had been married twice in Texas before he married a white socialite, Etta Terry Duryea, in January of 1911; on her third attempt to kill herself, Duryea was successful on September 11, 1912, which made headline news. To make matters worst, Johnson had several other white girlfriends, known to be abusive with women, and against the norms of the era, he had opened a desegregated luxury restaurant club, which later became the famous Cotton Club of Harlem. He married for the fourth time to a 18-year-old white woman Lucille Cameron, on December 4, 1912, this made headline news, and they divorced in 1924. For this relationship with Cameron, he was charged with the violation of the Mann Act on October 18, 1912 for taking her across a state line, which was a felony. The original purpose for the Mann Act was to deal with human trafficking by making it illegal to transport across state lines “any woman or girl for the purpose of prostitution or debauchery or any other immoral purpose.” The law was not made to used to criminalize consensual sexual behavior between adults, but in Johnson's case, it was. After being found guilty by an all-white jury, he was given a one-day and one-year sentence in a federal prison with a $1,000 fine, but was released on bond, pending an appeal. Disguised as a black baseball team member, he escaped to Canada, made his way to Europe and was a fugitive with his wife at his side for seven years. He defended the championship three times in Paris, France before agreeing to fight Jess Willard in Cuba. Rumors circulated that Johnson, mistakenly believed the charge against him would be dropped if he yielded the championship to a white man, thus deliberately lost the fight to Willard. On April 5, 1915 he was knocked-out by Willard in the 26th round. He went to Mexico and had several fights there. Eventually on July 20, 1920, Johnson surrendered to United States Marshals and served a ten-month sentence. While in Leavenworth Federal Prison in Kansas, he fought in several bouts. In total, he had a professional record showing 73 wins with 40 being knockouts, 13 losses, 10 draws, and 5 no contest. After his release in 1921, he fought occasionally and appeared in vaudeville and carnival acts, appearing finally with a trained flea act. In August of 1925 he married a third white lady Irene Pineau and they remained married until his death. At the age of 67, his final ring appearance was November 27, 1945 fighting in three one-minute rounds to benefit the sell of United States War Bonds. He wrote two books of memoirs, “Mes Combats,” which was written in French in 1914, and “Jack Johnson in the Ring and Out” in 1927 and reprinted 1975. Born the third of nine children to parents who were former slaves, his father served in the Union Army during the American Civil War and obtained a war injury to his leg causing him to limp the rest of his life. The family lived in poverty in the segregated State of Texas. With little education, he became a laborer as a child. At the age of sixteen and rebellious, he left home for New York City, then Boston, before returning home. Although boxing was illegal in Texas, in 1897 he earned $25 for a four-round fight against professional boxer Bob Thompson, thus his boxing career began. After being killed in a car crash, he was buried next to Etta Duryea and later in 1992 his last wife was buried in the plot. Although married several times, he had no children. His life story was loosely adapted to the 1967 play “The Great White Hope,” which was made into a film in 1970 with actor James Earl Jones successfully playing his character on stage as well as film and earning him a Tony Award, Golden Globe Award, and an Academy Award Nomination for Best Actor in Leading Role. Ken Burn produced his life story in a 2004 documentary film, “Unforgivable Blackness.” After earlier attempts for a pardon had failed in 2016 and 2017, actor Sylvester Stallone requested a pardon from United States President Donald Trump. Stallone is well-known for playing the movie character of boxer Rocky Rambo. Jack Johnson was pardoned posthumously by President Donald Trump on May 24, 2018.

Bio by: Linda Davis


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  • Maintained by: Find a Grave
  • Originally Created by: Cinnamonntoast4
  • Added: 25 Jan 2002
  • Find a Grave Memorial 6125607
  • Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for Jack Johnson (31 Mar 1878–10 Jun 1946), Find a Grave Memorial no. 6125607, citing Graceland Cemetery, Chicago, Cook County, Illinois, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave .