One of over 200 historical markers on the island, this marker honors the life and career of Galveston native Arthur John “Jack” Johnson. The marker was erected in 2010 by the Texas Historical Commission.
“Galveston native Arthur John “Jack” Johnson (1878-1946) was the first African American world heavyweight boxing champion. He grew up in Galveston’s east end and honed his fighting skills working on the Wharves. During the 1900 storm, Johnson helped his family escape from their home on Broadway. In 1901, he refined his defensive skills with the help of Joe Choynski while in jail for illegal boxing. Johnson won the “Colored World Heavyweight Champion” title in 1903 but was determined to defeat white titleholder Tommy Burns. Though Burns initially refused the match, Johnson pursued him around the world until he finally agreed to fight in Australia in 1908. Johnson’s technical knockout in the 14th round led to a search for a “Great White Hope” to retake the title. He defended his title in the 1910 “Fight of the Century” with a knockout of former champion James Jeffries. His victory spawned both riots and celebrations.”
“In 1912, the U.S. government indicted Johnson under the Mann Act in an attempt to tarnish him and discourage his interracial relationships. He fled the U.S. and lived in exile for eight years. In 1915, Johnson fought his last important match in Havana, Cuba. Although younger, fitter and taller, Jess Willard needed 26 rounds to knock out Johnson and take the heavyweight title. Johnson finally surrendered to federal authorities in 1920. While in prison, he obtained two patents. Johnson continued to fight but never again for a title. He spent his later years as an entertainer and exhibition fighter. A car crash on a North Carolina road ended his life at age 68. Johnson, “the Galveston Giant,” pursued his ambitions against rigid notions of racial hierarchy in 20th century America. His refusal to submit to the social standards of his time has made him an important figure in the struggle for racial justice. (2010)”