John Arthur Johnson or Jack Johnson to some was born in Galveston Texas back on March 31st 1878. Jack Johnson was born too Henry and Tiny Johnson who were both former slaves. Both of Jack Johnson’s parents had blue collar jobs to make ends meet and to raise 5 other children along with Jack. They also tried to teach all 6 kids to read and write and try to teach them right from wrong. That was not always the easiest thing to do back then. But Henry and Tiny Johnson did their best with what they had and with what they were given. Jack Johnson did not attend school very much in his younger years. In total he only had about 5 years of formal schooling before he went into boxing. Jack Johnson was a very quite boy while in school although he was very restless and had a hard time sitting still while in class. As a young kid he worked on several fishing boats down in Florida and also did some work up in Boston on several different Boston racetracks. He did all this to earn extra money while growing up as a kid. It was very tough growing up as a kid in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. And being an African American kid made it that much tougher for Jack Johnson. Even as a youngster Jack Johnson was still ridiculed and teased and made fun of for the color of his skin. He was often entered in what was called a “Battle Royale”. The “Battle Royal” consisted of young black youths who were sometimes rounded up by white adults and forced to box each other with a blindfold on and bare knuckled. This kind of nonsense and abuse would go on until there was only one young African American youth left standing. Then to make matters worse the white spectators would throw whatever coins they had in their pockets into the ring as a reward for the winner. Jack Johnson fought in several of these “Battle Royale’s” growing up. Thus some of his first boxing matches were fought as a young teenager. As a young teenager Jack Johnson was given the nickname “Lil Arthur” by some friends that stuck with him for most of his life. As a young teenager Jack Johnson would travel all over to places such as Chicago and New York looking for fights that he could find to enter for a measly 5 to 10 dollars at the time. Jack Johnson had his first official boxing match at the young age of 15. It was a 16 round match against Jim Rocks in which Johnson won in a decisive manner.
Jack Johnson turned pro boxer at the very young age of 19 in 1897. In 1901 the young Jewish heavyweight champ Joe Choynski decided to train the young Jack Johnson. They actually met each other in an informal match where Choynski knocked out Johnson in the 3 round. The police broke up the fight since boxing was illegal in most of the US in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Consequently both Choynski and Johnson spent the next 23 or so days in jail. A lot of Johnson early years he spent training in San Francisco and on the beach in Alameda California. By the year 1902 Johnson had as many as 27 or so unofficial boxing matches where he was making upwards of 1000 dollars or so a match. This was much more than the measly 5 to 10 dollars he was fetching early on. A lot of this was due to the fact that Johnson was attracting bigger crowds do to his becoming a better boxer. Jack Johnson won his first heavyweight title on 3 February 1903. He fought the then colored heavyweight champ “Denver” Ed Martin. Johnson easily defeated Ed Martin to become the new colored heavyweight champ of the world. Jack Johnson had only 2 defeats within his first 56 official boxing matches by the year 1906. Early on in Johnson’s boxing career or pretty much throughout his whole career one of his biggest problems was finding quality opponents that he could schedule fights against. One of the biggest reasons behind this was the fact that Johnson was black and most of the fighters who held most of the titles during that time were white. And because of the race issues during that time none of the...
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