On a fine afternoon in the spring of 1897 a professional boxer and circus roustabout named Bob Tomlinson, who was traveling through Texas with a carnival troupe, found himself in difficulties. Tomlinson performed in a tented ring, offering $5 to anyone who could stay four rounds against him. Few of the farm boys, ranch hands and freight hustlers who tried for this prize survived even one round, and none had ever been upright at the end of four. But on this balmy afternoon, in a vacant lot on the outskirts of Galveston, trouble overtook the carnival man in the person of a tall, gangling 19-year-old Negro named John Arthur Johnson.
Throughout three rounds the youth easily avoided Tomlinson's rushes or tied him up at close quarters, smiling all the while with the kindly air of a dining-car attendant or a Pullman porter. Tomlinson decided the time had come to bull young Johnson into the canvas curtain, behind which lurked a confederate waiting to slap a blackjack against the curve of his skull. But Johnson refused to be crowded, tossed his adversary halfway across the ring and then whipped over a belly punch that made the tough grifter's eyes bug out. Tomlinson was barely able to flash the sign to the timekeeper to tap the gong. And the $5 which Johnson thereupon collected were the first of the estimated $2 million which he was to earn through his fighting skill.
This early triumph of Jack Johnson, the first Negro to become heavyweight champion of the world, had the authentic stamp of his amazingly fast reactions. The catlike quickness on defense and electrifying speed in the counterpunch owed something to brawls on the Galveston waterfront against enemies armed with knives and baling hooks, and to the swift reflexes required in jumping off boxcars and escaping through freight yards when pursued by railroad cops carrying metal-weighted billies. The bout in which he took the starch out of the rugged showman also demonstrated a feature of Johnson's own showmanship: while working he liked to chat with the crowd, and even with his opponent, beaming benevolently and inquiring as to the other boxer's health.
"I devoutly hope I didn't happen to hurt you, Jeff," Johnson would say from time to time during the fight in 1910 in which he shocked the white people of the world by his easy mastery of the huge Jim Jeffries. The ring conversation had been considerably less urbane two years before, when Johnson took the championship from Tommy Burns. On this occasion the men traded insults as well as blows, but that was because Burns would have it so. Ordinarily, Johnson liked to see people happy and comfortable, and he sometimes paid tribute to the craftsmanship of other fighters, as he did in Paris while defending his title against Frank Moran in 1914. All through the match he was clearly ahead of Moran, which displeased the unanimously anti-Johnson crowd, including Gaby Deslys, Mistinguette, Maurice Chevalier, the Dolly sisters, the Princesse de Polignac and the novelist Elinor Glyn. Moran finally landed a good punch and the crowd went wild. Looking around the Vélodrome d'Hiver at the frenzied fans, Johnson politely stepped back and joined in the applause, pounding his gloved hands together and bowing cordially to his opponent.
June 14, 1959
"My sincere congratulations, Frank," he said, flashing his chryselephantine smile. He then broke Moran's nose with an uppercut. It was not Johnson's habitual practice to punish other boxers so severely. But in this case Jack's fire power had been reduced when he broke a bone in his left arm while fighting a Negro known as Battling Jim Johnson a short time before. In addition, he was badly out of training from a diet of champagne, mutton chops, cherries and beer, which he usually drank through a straw. It was therefore a tactical necessity to inflict real damage on Moran.
Other things being equal, Johnson was content merely to keep order in the ring, particularly in his hundreds of exhibition bouts and sparring demonstrations. This was exemplified in 1910 when the champion went two rounds with Colonel Anthony J. Drexel Biddle, redoubtable amateur boxer, professor of mayhem to the U.S. Marines and author of The Life Of James J. Corbett. Although Biddle was obviously gunning for a knockout, Johnson at first merely expostulated, "Now you boy, there—don't get yo'self stirred up," until stung by a sharp blow, whereupon he struck the colonel on the head with considerable force, causing him to take a less belligerent attitude.
It would have been almost beyond belief, and a matter for extra editions of the newspapers with headlines in the largest type, had Biddle or any amateur succeeded in putting Johnson on the floor. Aside from Jess Willard, who took the championship from him in Havana in 1915, only a few professionals accomplished this feat. One was Joe Choynski, a powerful hitter who caught Johnson young and flattened him in the third round of a match which ended in a raid by Texas Rangers. Legend has it that Johnson subsequently perfected his superb defense under the veteran Choynski's coaching while the two boxers were serving their four-week sentences for the illegal prizefight. Another fighter who floored Johnson was Stanley Ketchel, who put him down during the 12th round at Colma, Calif., in 1909, apparently in violation of previous arrangements. Johnson instantly arose and knocked Ketchel senseless with a blow that ripped off his front teeth at the roots.
This proved that when the spirit moved him the great defensive fighter could throw a deadly punch. His virtuosity made his performance look deceptively easy, like the dancing of Ray Bolger or Fred Astaire. This seemingly negligent technical mastery cost Johnson the referee's decision in a bout against the mediocre Marvin Hart at San Francisco in 1905, though at one point he knocked Hart halfway out of the ring. Johnson always thought of himself as a basically aggressive fighter; the aging Bob Fitzsimmons could testify to this when Johnson knocked him out in 1907. Johnson said, "I was always attacking—my attack was to counter the leads I forced."
Nevertheless, many learned men of the barroom and sport page theorized that Johnson lacked initiative. The real experts knew better. One of these was Thomas Aloysius (Tad) Dorgan, the Hearst cartoonist and writer, who recognized Johnson's genius early in 1901. Damon Runyon said simply, "He can fight." And with all the evidence before him, the boxing historian Nat Fleischer wrote in his authoritative The Heavyweight Championship, "After years devoted to the study of heavyweight fighters, I have no hesitation in naming Jack Johnson as the greatest of them all."
Standing a quarter of an inch over 6 feet tall and weighing from 195 to 220 pounds when ready for business, Johnson resembled Bernard Shaw's fictional prizefighter Cashel Byron in being so beautifully balanced he seemed to be made of cork. He also resembled Cashel in his love for fine clothes and high living, just as he was like Gene Tunney in his leanings toward the works of heavyweight authors, claiming Herbert Spencer as his favorite for whiling away an idle hour, with Dumas and Hugo next in his esteem. Indeed, it appears that Tunney was not the first pugilist to take an interest in Elizabethan drama, for an essayist writing at the time of Johnson's last ring appearances in the late 1920s recorded that Jack was "conversant with the works of Shakespeare, having delved deeply into the volumes."
Nothing in Johnson's appearance, however, suggested scholarly pursuits. His broad face had the hammered-down look of primitive sculpture, and his head resembled that of Brer Fox's Tar-Baby, as drawn by A. B. Frost. Throughout his life Johnson frequently found that it suited his purposes to play the clown, but he could assume an air of regal authority on occasion; he was remarkably well cast, for example, as a captured Ethiopian general in a New York Hippodrome production of A√Øda. And he had his moments of genuine dignity. "When you write about me," he said in later life to John Lardner, "remember that I was a man, and a good one."
Johnson had experience in many fields other than prizefighting. Before his life came to its tragic end he had been a house painter, a dock worker, a coral fisher, a groom, a clerk, a musician, a bullfighter, a volunteer secret agent in World War I for the U.S. Government, and possibly also for the Kaiser, a nightclub owner, a wrestler, a preacher, a physical instructor, a camp cook, an actor, a beer salesman, a political orator, a patron of the arts and one of the most celebrated convicts ever to serve a prison term in the U.S. He was rated among the biggest eaters and drinkers of his time and was probably also the only Negro ever to deliver an address on the golden rule before a klavern of the Ku Klux Klan. He was matched in a foot race with a kangaroo, in a wrestling bout with a boa constrictor and in an extraordinary contest of another sort with Grigori Rasputin, the notorious monk at the court of Nicholas II.
Although his actual career was, to put it mildly, a highly unusual one, Johnson lived an even more remarkable fantasy life, which he often failed to distinguish from reality. It was not enough, for example, to experience an air raid in London during World War I: Johnson firmly believed that a zeppelin was following his personal automobile through the streets, its pilot keeping him spotted in a spyglass. The same spirit of exaggeration caused Johnson to see his routine introductions to other celebrities as audiences in which he dispensed advice and counsel based on his deep experience and wisdom. In a world alien and unfriendly to men of his color—and often to himself in particular—Johnson no doubt felt the need of this type of imaginative reassurance of his own status as a man and a performer; when imagination failed, and the world insisted on enforcing its rules against him, the affable Jack could become extremely hard to handle.
One outstanding symptom of Johnson's underlying anger was his obsession for dangerous driving. From the time he first got behind the wheel in 1904 he was a notorious speeder, and six serious accidents form a sinister pattern in his life. Another clue to Johnson's sense of resentment lay in his readiness to engage in brawls outside the ring. He was especially dangerous in this respect during the years just after his defeat by Willard, and on one occasion in this period was forced to pay a London theatrical manager ¬£1,075 for injuries sustained by the complainant in an argument over money.
Deplorable as it was, Johnson's free use of his fists was less obnoxious to the respectable world than his propensity for marrying white women. He married four times, and only the wife of his early youth was of his own race. In addition, Johnson made no effort to hide his dealings with numerous women to whom he was not married. Such a boldly uninhibited personal life, combined with his liberal use of liquor, made Johnson an object of moral censure on a nationwide scale. From every sort of pulpit preachers cried out against him before both black and white congregations, uplift societies passed resolutions condemning him, and the famous evangelist Billy Sunday crowed that his downfall before Willard was due to the "hellish, iniquitous booze" with which he was saturated.
Not all white Americans, to be sure, shared the Rev. Mr. Sunday's horror of hellish booze or even of Jack Johnson. One influential citizen who approved at least of Johnson was R. J. Coady, a red-headed Irishman who started the Washington Square Art Gallery and edited a magazine called The Soil. In one of its issues there could be found, along with reproductions of works by Matisse and Picasso and photographs of aboriginal carvings, a camera study of Johnson as champion with accompanying text which proclaimed that "after Poe, Whitman and Emerson he is the most glorious American."
This minority report from the white world undoubtedly would have found full agreement among the mass of Negro people. They gloried in a cluster of star Negro heavyweights which included Hank Griffin, Joe Jeannette, Sam Langford and Sam McVey, each regarded as equal to Johnson himself, though he managed to get past them all at one time or another. But what was more important to members of his race, Johnson was the only one among these powerful black men to have a chance at the championship of the world.
The title had been resigned in 1904 by the great and undefeated Jim Jeffries, and Tommy Burns disposed of the successor, Marvin Hart, in 1906. For a heavyweight champion, Burns was not very big, as he stood only 5 feet 7 inches tall, with a top fighting weight of 180 pounds, but he had great arrogance and was fast on his feet, with a long reach and a hard punch. A native of Canada, he was christened Noah Brusso and borrowed the more euphonious name from a jockey when he went into prizefighting after years of toughening at lacrosse. In the two years he wore the heavyweight crown Burns won 14 fights, defeating the Australian, English and Irish champions on their home grounds. During this time it was evident that he was in no hurry to meet Jack Johnson.
But by the end of 1908 he could no longer brush Johnson aside, for Jack was also hammering down all opposition, including some of Burns's own victims. When they finally arranged to fight, champion and challenger turned down the parsimonious offer of London's hallowed National Sporting Club and entrusted the general management of their bout to the Australian promoter who was known, far and wide, as Huge Deal McIntosh. A former bicycle racer and Member of Parliament, and the founder of the British milk-bar industry, Hugh D. Mcintosh impressed Johnson by his acuity in buying up all the bunting in New Zealand just prior to the visit of the U.S. fleet, so that the official welcomers had to pay his price before they could put out suitable flags.
McIntosh also earned Johnson's admiration when he talked a lumberman into lending the wood to construct the arena at Rushcutter's Bay in the outskirts of Sydney, the timbers to be returned when the fight was over. And although McIntosh gave further evidence of his bargaining skill by cutting Johnson's end of the take to little more than expenses, both Jack and his manager, Sam Fitzpatrick, were content, for they felt sure that Burns would lose. On his part, the champion worked up confidence by a series of brags like those of Mark Twain's riverboat bullies. "I will bet a few plunks the colored man will not make good!" he cried to the New York World. "I'll fight him and whip him." By Christmas night of 1908, the eve of the match, Burns and his followers were in a high state of optimism and sat up bellowing Where the River Shannon Flows. Johnson turned in early and got a good night's sleep.
Early next day the sporting population of Sydney moved in a solid mass toward Huge Deal McIntosh's stadium, swinging wooden rattles, blowing tin trumpets and loudly predicting victory for Burns. The bell sounded at 11:15 a.m. before a crowd of some 20,000 men, and two women whose names were not put on record. Burns was aggressive as he went against Johnson's perfect defense and was immediately floored by a counterpunch. This was the first fight to be called "The Battle of the Century" and also the first to be adequately photographed. The pictures still clearly show the champion's wild, angry frustration at his inability to damage Johnson.
"Who told you I was yellow?" Johnson inquired at the start. Burns replied with cursing and bad words, which were copiously returned. A British writer stated that Johnson's answers included such rounded lines as "You're white, Tommy—white as the flag of surrender!" Actually, nothing so elegant was said, but an authentic and printable remark from Johnson after a rush by Burns was, "You ain't showed me nothin' yet."
At the start of the 12th round a bookie yelled, "Even money Burns is there at the finish!" Johnson yelled back, "A hundred to one he don't black my eye!" In the 14th round Johnson felled Burns for a count of eight and was punching him silly when police entered the ring to save him from serious injury. Huge Deal McIntosh, who was thriftily serving as referee, thereupon declared Johnson winner and new champion.
What happened thereafter was epitomized by the scorching prose sent off from Sydney to the New York Herald by its special correspondent, Jack London. He compared what he had seen to an Armenian massacre, a hopeless slaughter, a funeral and a bout between a pygmy and a colossus. Burns never landed a blow, London related, and "a dew-drop had more chance than he with the giant Ethiopian." And it all pointed to an inescapable conclusion: "But one thing now remains. Jim Jeffries must emerge from his alfalfa farm and remove the golden smile from Jack Johnson's face. Jeff, it's up to you!"
Seldom has public opinion been more accurately expressed. The racial feeling in the dispatch was further emphasized by hundreds of lesser journalists, who frankly called the new champion "the black shadow on American boxing" and used the term "white hope" in reference to any possible challenger who was not a Negro. Johnson was also stigmatized in England, where the London Times foreshadowed the hatreds of Notting Hill by referring to him as a "flash nigger," while the London County Council made no secret of its dislike in refusing to license him to fight Bombardier Billy Wells.
None of this seemed to disturb Johnson, who continued to do exactly as he pleased. Shortly after the Burns fight he started on a 30-week vaudeville tour of the U.S. and Canada, entertaining packed houses with a medley of bag punching, sparring and performances on the bass viol, an instrument he played by ear. He fired Sam Fitzpatrick, which was widely regarded as evidence of ingratitude and conceit. He disposed of a sturdy white hope in Vancouver when he beat Victor McLaglen, later to be the only winner of a Hollywood Oscar who also had engaged in a heavyweight championship fight. But the heavyweight hopes were mostly so uninteresting that Johnson decided he could do better business with the world's middleweight champion, Stanley Ketchel, a bold, colorful character who was a highly competent fighter. Ketchel came up to 170 pounds for the bout and planned to give Johnson a terrible surprise. On the way to their respective camps at Colma, Calif. Johnson drove his 690 Thompson Flier past Ketchel's white Lozier at 62 mph on the wrong side of the road. Johnson showed a similar superiority in the ring, and all authorities agree that Ketchel brought upon himself what happened there.
A few weeks after his destruction of Ketchel, Johnson was in Pittsburgh and met a girl named Etta Duryea. He married her on January 28,1911, an act which, since Etta was white, drew unfavorable comment both from the general public and from many of the couple's friends, but in the meantime Etta was with him when he set out with a party of secretaries, valets and professional pals-of-the-champion on a world theatrical tour. His first stop was London, where he opened the autumn music hall season before large but not entirely friendly crowds. Johnson also got plenty of attention offstage, as when the landlady of Loughborough House on Northumberland Street in Paddington ran to court with a tale of smashed crockery and broken furniture. His next court appearance was in answer to a police summons for using bad language in Coventry Street. This complaint was cooled off, but when the law slapped him with a ¬£1,500 judgment for breach of a theatrical contract, Johnson crossed the Channel into France.
There was excitement in Paris almost immediately when Johnson got into a street brawl, which spread to a general ruction, over a real or fancied insult to Miss Duryea. Johnson landed several good punches and was quite amazed, like the members of the American Expeditionary Force some years later, at the expert manner in which Frenchmen kicked each other during the melee. The police were sympathetic to Johnson and all charges were dropped. Soon after this, reliable word came that back in the U.S. the white hope agitation had finally produced something worthwhile: big Jim Jeffries was on the point of agreeing to come out and face Jack Johnson in the ring.
The story of the fight, staged by Promoter Tex Rickard in Reno on July 4, 1910 (SI, April 29, 1957) and of Johnson's immense superiority to Jeffries, whom he finished with a technical knockout in the 15th round, is as well known as any in the history of boxing, for it was exhaustively discussed and reported by a corps of newspaper and magazine experts, together with such journalistic trained seals as the famed novelist Rex Beach, author of The Spoilers, and John L. Sullivan, last of the bare-knuckle champions. Johnson's victory sent a powerful shock through the entire country along the filaments of a great web of emotion which had the ring at Reno as its center. The news was spread, almost as rapidly as it would have been by radio or television, through various facilities across the land. The Kansas City Star, for example, engaged Convention Hall for a crowd of 14,000, who heard a blow-by-blow account, telegraphed from ringside and bellowed by announcers through megaphones. On Long Island a more select audience was gathered at the Edgemere Club, where William K. Vanderbilt Jr., Howard Gould, Lawrence Drake and others followed the action through the bulletin service of the Times. The clubmen stationed in front of the Times building an agent who ran to a telephone booth and passed the word as each bulletin was posted. The flash that Jeffries had lost was received in the Edgemere lounge without applause.
The experts were almost as dazed and demoralized as Jeffries himself. Some now took the line that the fight had been at best an exhibition of brutality and so it didn't really matter who won. Others maintained that so horrifying a result meant the end of professional boxing and agreed with Sullivan when he intoned, "It will be the last big fight in this country." Tad Dorgan, of course, had no need to hedge or moralize, for he had predicted that Johnson would win. But on the whole the journalists were inconsolable. One of the most learned and sagacious of them, Robert Edgren of the New York World, was able to believe that Jeffries had been given poison in his tea, and so maintained for years afterward. Jeffries himself may have come to accept the poisoned-tea theory in his old age, but what he said shortly after the fight had the ring of authenticity. "I could never have whipped Jack Johnson at my best," he told a reporter on the train going back to California. "I couldn't have hit him. No, I couldn't have reached him in a thousand years."
Conspicuously excepted from the ranks of the mourners, of course, were the ordinary Negroes of America. The moment the news of Johnson's triumph came through, at about 3:45 p.m. Reno time, they rushed out in thousands, parading, dancing, shouting and beating tin pans. They soon encountered the police and parties of angry white men as well. That night six people were killed and scores wounded in the serious rioting which broke out in both the North and South. All this could have been avoided if Jack Johnson had not lived so high, or beaten Burns and Jeffries so badly, or even if he had shown the simple forethought to be born with a white skin. As it was, he left Reno for Chicago on a special train, carrying $60,000 in a stout satchel, the most controversial figure in America.
Not long after, having established a home for his mother and sisters in Chicago, Johnson set out on his second European theatrical tour, accompanied by Etta and a staff of servants and managers headed by his nephew, Gus Rhodes. Johnson's boxing and musical act was booked in Marseilles, Lyons, Brussels, Berlin, Budapest, Bucharest, St. Petersburg and London. "I was a bigger attraction than the king," said the champion, referring to his arrival in England at the time of the coronation of George V. Johnson drew a crowd wherever he went, and his appearance at a London or Paris nightspot was always impressive, with his party the center of a scurry of waiters and wine stewards. He was frequently photographed in public resorts, surrounded by smiling dark and light faces and usually grinning at the camera over a clump of bottles.
Johnson was highly conscious of the difference between these surroundings and those of his hoboing youth, and the contrast set him thinking of a profitable way to dramatize his extraordinary advance in the world. Meditating in the more magnificent restaurants and nightclubs of London, Paris and Berlin on the tremendous distance he had traveled since his poverty-stricken Galveston childhood, Johnson concluded that he could be extremely happy as the managing director of a luxurious saloon. Successful pugilists traditionally waited for retirement before opening taverns. But Johnson had a better idea: he would parade before his public as a professional host while he still wore the fine gold crown of a champion. And he knew exactly where to set up shop—he would go home and add to the nearly 8,000 gin mills of Chicago a racially integrated place where excessively formal conduct would not be required and where, to use his own expression, there might be some "lively times."
Returning to Chicago with his plans matured, Johnson enlisted the financial backing of a brewery, and the enterprise soon got under way at 41 West 31st Street, immediately to the south of the world-famed Levee district, an area that was almost entirely free of the spirit of holier-than-thou. On opening night of the Café de Champion, as the new resort was called, thousands of would-be patrons lined up for blocks and fought to get inside to see what Johnson had prepared for their entertainment.
Those who struggled past the doors found themselves in a splendid cabaret-restaurant with several rooms, a tremendous bar, solid silver cuspidors and a great number of paintings and other art works on display. "Having traveled extensively," Johnson said of this episode in his memoirs, "I had gained a comprehensive idea of decorative effects. I also had collected many fine works of art, curios and novelties, an array of artistic creations which put to shame many similar establishments in both Europe and America." Visitors viewed portraits of Johnson, his wife and his parents by "one of the foremost artists in America." The proprietor pointed out "a few real Rembrandts," as well as a series of biblical scenes, together with a life-size representation of the Empress Cleopatra at the height of her reign. In these impressive surroundings the opening-night ceremonies continued until after dawn, a pace that was maintained from then on in.
It was one long, continuous party for Jack Johnson, but it was not to last. The facts were that while the ample facilities of the South Side amusement areas were a source of some pride to many Chicagoans, the preachers and clubwomen were dead set against them, and mighty forces were beginning to stir. He had survived the Galveston Flood, but nothing in the world could save Johnson from the wave of reform which was about to crash over the Levee. He was carried down, not because his saloon was anything worse than the lively nightspot he claimed it to be but because individual as well as institutional improvement was in the air, and his fame, his color and his notoriously free and easy manner of living made him a prime personal target for the reformers who now advanced in zealous ranks upon Chicago's sporting population. With plenty of material to work on, a crowd of clergymen, prosecutors and detectives, together with the members of a grand jury, began a fascinating scrutiny of Jack Johnson's private life.
Although he was tipped off that he was under investigation, Johnson made no effort toward establishing a more discreet pattern of conduct but gave his main attention to setting up a match with "Fireman" Jim Flynn (real name Andrew Chiariglione), the most vigorous of the current white hopes. The fight, Johnson's first since he defeated Jeffries, took place at Las Vegas on July 4, 1912. As in the case of Tommy Burns, police entered the ring to save The Fireman from serious injury, and the affair was neither an artistic nor financial success.
A sad and terrible thing now took place in Johnson's household: his wife Etta committed suicide in their apartment over the café. Johnson wept at the funeral but within a month was involved in scandal when one of his entertainers shot him in the foot during an argument over his attentions to a white girl named Lucille Cameron. The injury was negligible, but the situation which brought it about contained the seeds of disaster. Lucille, a bright and good-looking girl, had come to Chicago from Minneapolis to see life and get on in the world. She visited the Café de Champion, met Johnson and got a job as his secretary. Soon Miss Cameron's mother appeared, with lawyers, and threatened to charge Johnson with abduction. Nothing came of this, but the machinery of reform was now grinding harder than ever, and on November 12 Johnson was put under federal indictment on grounds that he had transported one Belle Schreiber across several state lines in violation of the Mann Act, which had been passed in 1910. Of course this Act, which stands as a monument to Representative James Robert Mann of Illinois, was intended not to regulate personal conduct but to crack down on the promoters of commercialized vice. Johnson had nothing to do with such business, but it was true that Belle Schreiber, a white woman from Milwaukee, had traveled in his entourage. And it was well known that this woman was one of several who had at various times been publicly linked with Johnson in a socially condemnable way.
Jack Johnson now made it absolutely certain that he would be convicted and given a harsh sentence by marrying Lucille Cameron. The ceremony was performed at the home of fight promoter Jack Curley by a Negro minister on December 3. A number of reporters were present, one of whom asked Lucille, "Where's your mother, Mrs. Johnson?" "I don't know and I don't care," said the bride. Johnson's mother was there but replied when asked for a statement, "Sometimes I say things Jack doesn't like, so I'll keep my thoughts to myself." As the champagne corks popped Johnson took the $2,500 ring from his wife's finger and put it in his pocket. All of this was reported at length in the Chicago papers.
When he went to trial in May of 1913 Johnson had to admit that most of the charges against him were technically correct; he also might well have quoted Mr. Bumble's comment on the law. And to no one's surprise the jury quickly voted for conviction. Judge George Carpenter accurately reflected respectable opinion when he said in passing sentence, "This defendant is one of the best-known men of his race, and his example has been far reaching, and the court is bound to consider the position he occupied among his people. In view of these facts, this is a case that calls for more than a fine." Accordingly, he slapped Johnson with a year and a day in the penitentiary at Joliet, Ill., in addition to a fine of $1,000.
To say that Jack Johnson was unrepentant is to state only part of his feelings. Judge Carpenter had made it plain that he would not have been sentenced to jail, or perhaps even convicted, if he had been white. In bitter resentment Johnson now thought of England and Europe, where he had made easy money and behaved as he pleased. He decided to jump bail and leave the U.S. forever. Sending Lucille on ahead, Johnson and Gus Rhodes boarded a train at Englewood Station, carrying bags of bats and posing as members of a Negro baseball team bound for Canada. They got off in Hamilton, Ont., joined Lucille in Toronto and left Montreal on July 1, 1913 on board the Carinthia bound for Le Havre.
"Well, the cable's cut," said Johnson, as the liner put out to sea. "We're the three musketeers!" cried Lucille. The other passengers took no such romantic view of the Johnson party, and it was announced that the champion and his companions would eat in their staterooms on the voyage. When the news reached Chicago, Assistant U.S. District Attorney Elwood Goodman made what has today the sound of a rather unfeeling remark. "This may solve the whole affair," said Goodman. "The passengers may mutiny and heave him away on an iceberg." Johnson could shrug off that sort of talk, but he was considerably alarmed when he looked out at Le Havre and saw a detachment of French police drawn up on the pier. It was a relief to learn they were only there to control the crowds who had come to stare at the world's most famous fugitive from justice. But he was to see a great deal more of the police during the next seven years.
A purse that disappeared...A night with Rasputin...Havana, Willard and the fix—or was it?...A would-be spy in Spain...Return to America...Prison, the pulpit and the stage...A truck on Route U.S. 1.