I confess. I thought I knew the brother, albeit from afar. But as usual the propaganda machine of White Supremacy conspired to “whiten” or batter down our image so that later generations never get a full 3 D image of the giant amongst us. They did it with many, and the legendary and heroic image of Jack Johnson was reduced to that of a brute pugilist with a penchant for the other “white meat”. Jack Johnson, to quote the great Isaac Hayes, was a BAD MUTHA… shhhhh, hush yo mouth.
The story of Jack Johnson is about the first African boxer to win the most coveted title in all of sports and his adventures, in and out of the ring, to live his life as a free man.
Jack Johnson paved the road for future athletes in his flamboyance, his trash talking, bling and openly banging white women in an era when a brother often gets lynched just for “reckless eyeballing” them Caucasian women.
The man was the epitome of the brash, trash talking, arrogant super boxer that Muhammad Ali would be, 39 years before Jackie Robinson was chosen to be the face of baseballs integration and just a generation removed from his own father being born a slave…but he was doing it at the turn of the century. After he became champion, the media prayed for a “Great White Hope” to come forward and beat him, and set the racial hierarchy back to its natural order. Former undefeated champion James J. Jeffries came out of retirement to fight Johnson, satisfying both the Caucasian fans and the powers that be.
In the ensuing “Fight of the Century,” Johnson forced Jeffries corner to throw in the towel in the 15th round to avoid a complete knockout and post-fight cuckold session (as was the custom of the time).
Outside of the ring, Johnson’s hobbies included racing flashy sports cars and traveling the world. He had gold capped teeth and a gold handled pimp cane, sipped champagne and had a pet leopard that he normally take for walks.
He spent time as a jazz musician, Chicago nightclub owner, stage actor, dock worker, coral fisher, bullfighter, volunteer secret agent in World War I for the U.S. Government and as a beer salesman. He was a legendary eater and drinker (and spent a night in Russia downing vodka shot-for-shot with Rasputin) and even delivered a speech on sportsmanship, fair play and the golden rule to the KKK.
Johnson’s penchant for bedding Caucasian women was legendary, but while Tiger Woods was screwing 2 dollar ho’s, Johnson’s pit stops where in the $5 range. Among those Johnson was romantically linked to were Moulin Rouge star Mistinguette, German spy Mata Hari, sex symbols Lupe Velez and Mae West. He was so arrogantly blatant with his flaunting of the Caucasian women that the government convicted Johnson of violating the Mann Act by “transporting women across state lines for immoral purposes” in 1913–despite the fact that the incidents in question took place before the Mann Act was passed and the woman in question was his future wife.
While in prison, he refused to indulge in the self hatred and degrading act of forced sodomy for a more macho actof smoking cigars, drinking and even invented and patented a new type of wrench. Johnson had a vaudeville act in which he clowned and played the bass fiddle, in addition to sparring and bag punching, and was undoubtedly a much better entertainer than the average pugilist who took to the stage.
On June 10, 1946, Jack Johnson crossed the border of North Carolina, heading for New York at the wheel of his 1939 Lincoln Zephyr. He was returning from an engagement with a small Texas circus, and traveling fast. Beside him sat a man named Fred L. Scott, whom he had employed to go along for company and to spell him in driving. Around 3:30 p.m. they approached the outskirts of Franklin-ton, where U.S. 1 swings in a gentle curve. A truck rose into view coming the other way. Johnson lost control of the car and it went off the shoulder to the right. He pulled back heading straight for the truck and wrenched the wheel. The Zephyr yawed across the concrete, this time crashing into a power pole. Scott was thrown clear and escaped with minor injuries. The driver’s side of the car was crumpled and Johnson was unconscious. They got him to St. Agnes’ Hospital in Raleigh in less than an hour, and he died from internal injuries at 6:10 p.m. The younger people on the staff did not know who their emergency patient was, but an old doctor looked down on the black unscarred face and exclaimed: “That’s Jack Johnson.”
NEXT day instructions came to ship Johnson’s body to Chicago, and there, at undertaking rooms on South Michigan Avenue, great crowds waited patiently throughout June 13 for a chance to march past the open casket, while a police detail stood by. On June 14 thousands of African people and many Caucasians stood in the streets outside the big, high-domed Pilgrim Baptist Church, with a corps of Red Cross workers on hand to calm the hysterical. In the auditorium the Rev. Junius Caesar Austin Sr. rose to address 2,500 mourners from a flower-banked pulpit. Jack struck a double blow when he became heavyweight champion,” said the minister. “If we hadn’t had a Jack, we wouldn’t have a Joe now.” The reference was to Joe Louis, who then held the heavyweight title. In a sense, that statement could serve as Johnson’s best epitaph and a justification for a life too often marred by selfishness and arrogance. During it, many persons had denounced and detested him, yet he stayed warm in the hearts of others who greatly needed someone to admire. For them, Jack Johnson’s career was a source both of pride and inspiration.