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Jack Johnson (Boxer) Park & Statue

Historic Sites, Monuments, Landmarks, and Public Art ()

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In 1908, African American boxer Jack Johnson defeated Tommy Burns, the reigning heavyweight champion. The victory made Johnson the first African American to hold the title of heavyweight champion, an occurrence that upset millions of white Americans. Whites convinced former champion Jim Jeffries to come out of retirement and put the boastful black boxer "in his place." Instead, Johnson humiliated Jeffries in the ring and proceeded to go out of his way to be photographed with white women-a social taboo that further infuriated millions of white men and women in the early 20th century. Despised by most whites in his own time, it took a century for his hometown of Galveston to name a park in his honor. Jack Johnson's statue and park was dedicated in 2012.

The Jack Johnson Statue inside the park.
Photo of Jack Johnson

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     Jack Johnson made himself a world wide name when he beat Tommy Burns to become the worlds first black Heavyweight Champion. This couldn't be tolerated in a society that still saw African-Americans as second rate citizens, and as a result, Jim Jeffries, a former World Heavyweight Champion, came out of retirement to face Jack Johnson for the title. This became the Fight of the Century, during which, Jim Jeffries lost to Jack Johnson rather easily. Jack Johnson was here to stay as the World Heavyweight Champion for the time being.
     During his reign as champion, Jack Johnson became quite the trouble maker outside of the ring where he was constantly breaking laws that didn't appease him. He often went well over the speed limit in towns and paid the fines in cash. His biggest problem, in the eyes of the people of that time, was that he was fascinated with white women. This interracial mingling of white and black was not only unacceptable, but also illegal. As a result, Johnson found himself in trouble with the law over the matter and was actually sentenced to a year in prison for violating the Mann Act, which was the illegal act of transporting women across state lines for immoral purposes. He would flee the country to avoid this sentence, but eventually came back to serve his punishment. 
     Despite all of his success against incredible odds, Galveston couldn't accept Johnson because of his actions outside of the boxing ring. They often discredited him and didn't really want to be apart of his legacy of being the first black World Heavyweight Champion. In later years, around 1980, the town made some small attempts to recognize the life of Jack Johnson by naming a street and giving Johnson a statue in his honor. Unfortunately, the street was a rough one that even the most die hard fan wouldn't want to visit, and the statue was not taken care of and became the victim of vandalism. Fast forward to 2012, Galveston has finally decided to honor Johnson in an appropriate way by giving him a park and a new statue, one that sits directly behind the Old Central Cultural Center. 

Sources

Unforgivable Blackness [Motion picture]. (2005). Hoinski, M. (2012, June 30). A Century Later, Galveston’s Nod to Jack Johnson. Retrieved April 23, 2015, from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/01/us/galveston-pays-tribute-to-jack-johnson-100-years-later.html?_r=0 Flatter, R. (n.d.). Johnson boxed, lived on own terms. Retrieved April 23, 2015, from https://espn.go.com/sportscentury/features/00014275.html

Address
2627 Avenue M
Galveston, Texas 77550
Tags
  • African American History
  • Sports History
This location was created on 2015-04-23 by Joshua Kirwan, Marshall University; Instructed by David J. Trowbridge.   It was last updated on 2017-05-02 by Clio Admin .

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