Did You Know Jack ‘the Galveston Giant’ Johnson Was Born on This Day?

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Jack “the Galveston Giant” Johnson became the first African-American world heavyweight boxing champion. He defeated Canadian boxer Tommy Burns to win the championship title.

Johnson was born in Galveston, Texas, in 1878. He began his professional boxing career in the 1890s and was able to rise to fame during the Jim Crow Era. By 1903, Johnson held the title of “Colored Heavyweight Championship of the World.” The following year he issued a challenge to James Jackson Jeffries, the man who held the world championship title at the time.

Unfortunately for Johnson, the champion refused to have to enter the ring with him. It was not uncommon for African-American boxers to encounter situations where white boxers would refuse to fight them. Jeffries went into retirement before allowing Johnson an opportunity at the title.

However, Johnson’s talent and ring abilities were hard to ignore and Tommy Burns, the boxer who succeeded Jeffries, gave him the chance after promoters guaranteed him money for participating in the match. Finally, in December of 1908, Johnson faced Burns in a match held in Australia. Thousands of fans watched as Burns and Johnson boxed for 14 rounds. The officials called the fight in favor of Johnson on account of a technical knock-out, which made him the first Black heavyweight champion of the world.

Johnson held the championship until April 1915. His reign included a successful defense against Jeffries, who came out of retirement to face Johnson on the Fourth of July in 1910. He lost the championship in a knockout by Jess Willard in Havana, Cuba. 

In total, Johnson’s professional record included 73 wins – 40 of which were knockouts – 13 losses, 10 draws and five no contests. In addition to his success in the ring, Johnson became known for the lavish lifestyle he lived. 

After serving a short term in prison, he entered the ring occasionally but also appeared in various carnival acts and wrote two memoirs titled, My Life and Battles (1914) and Jack Johnson in the Ring and Out (1927). 

The first African-American world heavyweight champion died in an automobile accident in 1946 in Raleigh, North Carolina. He was later inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame in 1954 and is considered to be one of the best heavyweight fighters of all time.

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