Jack Johnson, the first Negro heavyweight champion of the world, arrived in Europe in July of 1913 as a fugitive from a jail sentence for technical violation of the Mann Act in the U.S. He was accompanied by his third wife, Lucille Cameron Johnson, and his nephew and factotum, Gus Rhodes. 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. He also had delusions of grandeur and a strong tendency to overestimate his popularity and to mistake mere curiosity for admiration. But even Johnson began to get the message of disapproval when he was heckled at the South London Music Hall and heard the savage booing of the audience at the Euston Theater of Varieties. And at Wolverhampton his entire act was canceled on the protest of the local Free Church congregation.
In the face of such discouragement Johnson decided to abandon the theater for a while and meet a suitable challenger in the ring. But it was not until the following year, when he met Dan McKetrick, that he found a promoter whom he considered trustworthy. McKetrick was a high-strung Irish-American who was staging fights in Paris under the corporate title of La Société pour la Propagation de la Boxe Fran√ßaise. He suggested that Jack take on Francis Charles Moran, a red-haired young man from Pittsburgh who had served a hitch in the Navy. Moran had beaten some reasonably good fighters and was feared for his devastating right swing, which was known as "the old Mary Ann." Johnson signed articles for the fight at a bottle-loaded café table in the Bois de Boulogne.
McKetrick's temper, not smooth at the best of times, was continually abraded during the promotion of this fight. For one thing, the French journalists raised a cry of "Qui est Moran?" and refused to publish McKetrick's propaganda until he agreed to distribute $3,600 among them.
The promoter was even more displeased when Moran went to the U.S. and brought back Ike Dorgan, brother of Hearst Cartoonist Tad, as his personal manager. Dan McKetrick had special reasons for wanting to continue as sole director of Moran's career. He called the boxer into conference.
June 21, 1959
"Let's sign a contract, Frank," McKetrick said.
"I don't need no contract," Moran replied.
"Well, I do!" cried McKetrick, quickly coming to a boil.
"I'm sorry," Moran said. "When I left the Navy I took an oath never to sign no papers."
"You took an oath!" screamed McKetrick. "What if I take a punch at your head!"
"You've got more sense than that," said Moran, but McKetrick went away fuming. The truth is that the promoter was convinced Johnson was finished as a fighter and that Moran could beat him and would then be worth "a fortune of money." He was further convinced of this when Johnson, out after some extra money before the Moran bout, broke a small bone in his left arm while fighting a heavyweight named Battling Jim Johnson. McKetrick could not endure the thought of Ike Dorgan cutting in on his expected bonanza. In this implacable mood, McKetrick decided that nobody would get anything until matters were arranged as he wanted them. Using a claim against Moran for a $1,497 advance as legal excuse, he instructed a French lawyer to tie up the entire amount in the box office the minute the fight was over.
When the fight took place, before a fashionable audience at the Vélodrome d'Hiver, McKetrick saw he had been terribly mistaken about Moran's chances. It was true that Johnson was not in first-rate condition, but his superlative defense held up, and he was able to evade the dreaded Mary Ann and give Moran a severe beating without the full use of his left arm. Johnson had a rather preoccupied air, for he had heard rumors of writs and lawyers and knew but too well that this always meant trouble. And, as he feared, he was told after the fight that French police had grabbed the money and taken it away.
"Goodby, money, you're going to be long gone," Johnson muttered, shaking his head, and drove out to his villa in suburban Asni√®res for a victory banquet of chicken, lobster, whisky and champagne, all obtained on credit. These events took place on the night of June 27, 1914. Next day, in the provincial Bosnian town of Sarajevo, a political assassin shot the Austrian Archduke Francis Ferdinand. Within 48 hours McKetrick's lawyer was called to military service, and in the excitement he left without giving his client the necessary papers to get the funds out of the Bank of France. When McKetrick cooled down and applied for the money the bank officials told him they had no authority to release it. It had taken McKetrick four weeks to get into a mood to talk business, and by this time World War I had broken out; and so the settlement would have to wait until the lawyer could get back to Paris on a furlough. But that brave man, unhappily, was killed in one of the first engagements, and to this day not a single sou of the gate receipts has ever been sprung. And so the Johnson-Moran match must be recorded as history's only world heavyweight championship fight in which the contestants worked without pay.
Taking inventory as he recovered from the victory celebration, Johnson correctly assumed that it would be hopeless to try to collect what had been promised him for risking his title against Moran. There was no other opponent in sight, and a tremendous white folks' war was obviously brewing. At the moment his only chance to make money was in vaudeville, and he decided to fill all the bookings he could get "before the big balloon went up." Accordingly, the three musketeers, as Johnson and his wife and nephew called themselves, took a train for Russia, arriving in St. Petersburg early in July.
Here they found a great uproar of mobilizing troops and hysterical officials running around in a frenzy. Johnson's visit was promoted by another American Negro, a onetime valet named George Thomas, who had become a theatrical producer and was such a notable personage that he had connections at the court of Czar Nicholas II and attended social functions at the palace. Years afterward Johnson was still marveling over an introduction furnished by Thomas late one night at a gathering of important people. Here the showman presented the boxer to a bearded priest, who was none too clean and had a glittering eye—Rasputin.
"Some day somebody gonna kill that man!" whispered Thomas. But it was Johnson who was nearly annihilated on this occasion as he tried to stand against the weird monk, drink for drink, at the vodka tables. Johnson got back to his hotel at daylight. A few hours later the police rushed in, made Johnson get dressed and hustled him—suffering with a frightful headache—to the station house. There an official told Johnson to get himself and his party out of Russia. "They invoked the five-and-10 law," Johnson said. "That means five minutes to pack and 10 minutes to get out of town." Through Thomas' influence Johnson and his companions managed to load their 14 trunks on an outgoing train. In this connection, Jack recorded that Thomas drew him aside just before his departure and slipped him a package of papers. Thomas said that these were copies of personal exchanges between the Czar and the Kaiser and had inconceivable importance. Johnson was to take the documents to London, where Thomas would let him know what to do with them. Whatever he entrusted to Johnson, George Thomas enraged the new rulers of Russia three years later by his prosperity, his nationality and his color and escaped from St. Petersburg one jump ahead of a mob of Bolsheviks who wanted to lynch him. He settled in Constantinople but never again was as wealthy and famous as he had been in the days of the Czar.
When Johnson and his party at last got back to Paris the confusion was even greater than in St. Petersburg, and they were about as welcome as a squadron of uhlans. Obviously, the only thing to do was head for England. Johnson went to Asni√®res, got his car out of storage, and they started for Boulogne. On the way he went off the road at high speed down a 50-foot embankment, but by incredible luck nobody was hurt. With this kind of driving Johnson managed to reach the port over roads which were choked with military traffic, only to arrive in the middle of a stampede of 4,000 cavalry horses on the pier. But even more memorable was the sight of British troops disembarking. There were neat, smart-looking London regiments and kilted Scots; their marching song had a haunting lilt and was about a place in Ireland. "It's a long way to Tipperary," they were singing, "it's a long way to go."
Twenty-four hours later, as Johnson stood in the wings of a London music hall near the Elephant and Castle, he heard the same song used as the closing number of the turn preceding his. "Come on now—everybody!" cried the performer, and the audience burst into the chorus. Johnson could not resist it. Arms aloft and golden smile agleam, he marched on stage and joined the singing. For once he had an audience absolutely with him, and they gave a cheer.
"Good old Jack!" the audience shouted.
"Good old England!" cried Johnson in return.
There were plenty of music-hall bookings now in a country under emotional tension and hungry for the relaxation of a show. Johnson did his best to provide a cheerful note and at least added vivid sartorial decoration to the London scene. Walking in Piccadilly, he rivaled Bernard Shaw's fictional prizefighter Cashel Byron in the elegance of his dress, being observed in a biscuit-colored silk suit, a pale golden trilby (hat) and shoes made of doeskin and crocodile leather. But it was becoming plain even to Johnson, with his habitual unfounded optimism, that many British people did not regard him with approval. Their dislike was based on something considerably more than mere envy of his fine clothes and the white Benz touring car, upholstered with leopard skin, in which he frequently took the air. The casualty lists were beginning to come in; and it was widely reported that Johnson had made unforgivable pro-German remarks while drunk. One evening—so Johnson recorded in his memoirs—he and Lucille returned from the theater to find that their flat had been entered and their belongings scattered on the floor. Nothing had been taken except the papers from St. Petersburg, which Johnson had hidden between the pages of his favorite volume of Herbert Spencer. Knowing Johnson's great sense of fantasy, some students may be inclined to place this incident in the same class of romantic creation as the raid on the rooms of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson by agents of Professor Moriarty. But it cannot be questioned that a few evenings later a stern-looking man stepped up to Johnson, placed a paper in his hands and said, "It is my duty to give you this order to leave England within 24 hours."
With the help of such influential men as American-born Sir Hiram Maxim, inventor of the machine gun, and Lord Lonsdale, Britain's great patron of sport, Johnson managed to appeal against the ouster, but when he was attacked one dark night by a band of rowdies he finally decided it was time to go. At this critical point an old associate appeared with an interesting proposition. The friend was Jack Curley, the boxing promoter, who lunched with Jack and Lucille at the Savoy and reported that New York theatrical men had put up money to promote a world heavyweight championship prizefight and a suitable white hope had been found in the person of Jess Willard, the Pottawatomie Ploughboy.
"Who is this Weelard?" Johnson asked in the French accent he sometimes affected. Curley said he was nobody to worry about, though rather large and strong. Willard stood 6 feet 6 inches tall, weighed 250 pounds and had killed a man in the ring. None of this intimidated Johnson, who said, "All right, I will take this Weelard for you. And you can call the round."
Curley replied that he was not so much concerned with what round ended the fight as with finding a place to hold it. Johnson, facing a white hope who had a chance of beating him, would be a tremendous drawing card anywhere in the U.S., but the champion could hardly defend his title in jail, and the Mann Act sentence still hung over him. On this point Johnson always maintained that Curley said he had politicians working on the case and if Johnson would throw the fight to Willard the fix was in. "We reached an agreement," Johnson wrote in his memoirs, "which would give Willard the championship and permit me to return home."
Whatever he really thought Curley had been telling him, Johnson met Jess Willard under a blistering sun at Havana on April 5, 1915 before some 16,000 people in a wooden arena at the Oriental Park Racetrack. This was to be the last time a Negro figured in a heavyweight championship bout until Joe Louis faced James J. Brad-dock 22 years later. Willard was in the best condition of his life, having trained six months for this day. Johnson was heavy around the middle. He had gone on a South American theatrical tour after his interview with Curley in England and apparently had done no preparatory work except his boxing exhibitions and a few strongman stunts such as pulling a team of horses or allowing a horse to stand on his chest. Johnson later said there was no use working hard for a fight he intended to lose.
Johnson's story was that his wife, who was sitting at ringside, was to receive a package of bills taken directly from the box office, and amounting to $50,000, which was to be his payment for throwing the fight in the 10th round. "But when that round arrived," Johnson recorded, "the money had not been paid. It was nearing the 26th round when the money was turned over to Mrs. Johnson. I had specified that it should be in $500 bills so that the package should be small and the amount quickly counted. After examining it she gave me the signal. I replied that everything was O.K. and she departed. In the 26th round I let the fight end as it did."
It is true that Lucille Johnson left the arena before the 26th round, but it is a great deal more likely that this was to avoid seeing Johnson defeated than to carry away a package of $500 bills. Indeed, bills of that denomination are so seldom presented at box office windows that this detail alone is enough to discredit the story. So far as the fight was concerned, Johnson was floored in the 26th and did not get up. One of the best known of all sporting photographs (above) shows Johnson on his back with Willard towering over him. Much has been made of the fact that Johnson's right arm is raised as if to shield his eyes from the glaring tropical sun. All this means is that Johnson was not completely unconscious, any more than Jeffries was at Reno. But, like Jeffries, he was finished so far as the fight was concerned. Also like Jeffries, Johnson spoke frankly about the fight and his part in it shortly after leaving the ring, while still in the shock of defeat. "Willard was too much for me," he told a reporter. "I just didn't have it."
Jack Curley's recollections were in full accord with what the deposed champion said in this moment of truth. Curley stated years later in New York, "Nobody ever took Johnson's charges of fakery seriously. He was well past his prime, fat and dissipated, and he was worn down and knocked out by a strong, game and well-conditioned opponent." This was also how it looked to Willard, who merely said, "If Johnson throwed it, I wish he throwed it sooner. It was hotter than hell down there."
After the fight reliable advisers told Johnson that if he entered the U.S. he would go directly to prison. He returned to London, having received word that the Foreign Office would tolerate his presence so long as there were no reports of bad behavior. He hoped to make big money from exhibiting movies of the Willard fight in the United Kingdom. And his sense of injustice was not soothed when a certain Mr. A. Weil challenged his rights in the pictures and actually scuffled with him at the express office for possession of the prints. Mr. Weil was bent slightly out of shape in this encounter, and Johnson kept the films. But in a few weeks he was in ugly trouble.
This came from an altercation at the Hippodrome in Preston, where Johnson was offering a musical sketch called Seconds Out. His company manager, Jack du Maurier, resigned and asked for traveling expenses back to London, in addition to other sums. Johnson objected, and du Maurier came out of the ensuing debate with a badly injured left eye. He got a judgment of ¬£1,075 for the damage, and shortly afterward Johnson left England for Spain.
Movies—he played the starring role in a picture called False Nobility—and bullfighting occupied Johnson' for a while in Spain, but he was thinking of an even more dangerous game. With the war at its height, German submarines were known to be in Spanish waters. When the U.S. entered the war on April 6, 1917 it was necessary to start coast-watching operations from La Coru√±a to Bilbao, and other confidential missions had to be performed. Johnson spoke to Major Lang, the U.S. military attache in Madrid, offering his services for espionage and informal warfare. This fitted nicely with Johnson's taste for melodrama, and the tight security over such activities made them rich material for fantasy. The business was well suited, moreover, to moonless nights when all kinds of contraband might be moved through coastal inlets. Johnson seemed to feel that his mysterious goings-on entitled him to special treatment. He told the American consul at Malaga, for example, that he would soon receive money from Major Lang and meanwhile requested the guarantee of his hotel bill, which was refused. Johnson left with dignity and may or may not have gone directly to German agents and offered his services to their country. In any event, the State Department had good reason to believe that an application by Johnson for a post as German agent reached Berlin and was rejected there. The impenetrable gloom of espionage procedure surrounds all aspects of this curious episode. But those inclined to blame Johnson for treating with the Germans should bear in mind the possibility that he might have been attempting the hazardous role of double agent, and that in so doing he was carrying out instructions. No action was ever taken against Johnson for approaching the enemy, and no known citation was issued for services to the American side.
After the war Johnson lived for a while in Mexico City, boxing, wrestling, bullfighting and enjoying high times with a group of hard-drinking generals and cientificos, or mining millionaires. He was also on good terms with President Venustiano Carranza. But General Alvaro Obregón was now the coming man; Carranza began to feel the heat and laid plans for a fast getaway. The statesman was kind enough to pass the word to Johnson, who felt that he, too, might be unpopular with the new ruler and got out of town well ahead of Obregón's advance.
Johnson's destination was Tijuana, just below the U.S. line in Lower California. Here he planned to open a café and promote and engage in prizefighting.
Less than a year later, after only modest success in promoting fights, Johnson began to pine for the U.S., and in particular for Chicago. And with his usual incorrigible optimism he made himself believe that somebody or other would have the influence to work out a settlement of his law trouble. This belief was partly based on an interview with Tom Carey, a Chicago politician who visited Tijuana and advised Johnson to come home. But Carey made no promises. He merely gave the opinion that whatever happened it would be better for Johnson to return while still a comparatively young man than to spend the rest of his life in exile.
Johnson's surrender to federal authorities in San Diego on July 20, 1920 brought out headline type of a size that the newspapers had not used since Armistice Day. This may have been why Johnson continued to believe he would receive official forgiveness right up to the time he was brought to court on Sept. 13 and again faced Judge George Carpenter. He could scarcely have been more wrong. The judge saw no reason to mitigate his original views and ordered Johnson to "The Walls"—the Federal Penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kans.—to serve out his time of a year and a day.
However, Johnson's stay at The Walls was not onerous. Upon admission he was brought before the superintendent, who proved to be none other than ex-Governor Denver S. Dickerson of Nevada, an old friend from the time of the Jeffries fight at Reno in 1910. Dickerson talked to Johnson in a fatherly way.
"You play square with me, Jack," said the official, "and you won't find things too bad here. Now, what job do you want while you're with us?"
Johnson put in for prison physical director, and it was so ordered. His duties were to organize and direct calisthenic drills, and as entertainment for the prisoners he fought five heavyweights brought in from outside. Johnson made himself very comfortable in prison and managed to keep a good supply of liquor and cigars and employed his own cook from among the inmates.
Johnson was released, with time off for good behavior, on July 9, 1921 and as a last favor to Superintendent Dickerson delivered an inspirational address to the prison population before checking out. In this memorable performance Johnson showed that he was beginning to feel his way into a vocation as an exhorter toward the better things of life. He took no particular subject for his address to the prisoners, recalling later that he wandered in a rather wide field, "having for my topics religion, squareness, courage and successful living." The prisoners gave three cheers, Dickerson escorted Johnson to the gates, and he walked out a free man amid the braying of a brass band which had marched to meet him. Except for exceeding speed limits he never again took liberties with the law.
Chicago, his old home, gave Johnson a roaring welcome without any of the racial friction feared by the police, and New York, his next stop, proved almost as enthusiastic. Jack then took to the road in vaudeville, attracting much less condemnation—and smaller audiences—than would have been the case a short time before. But the years which now came on, though never very prosperous, were by no means quiet and secluded. As it turned out, Johnson was to enliven many of his public appearances by a gift for extemporaneous chatter in a mystical, allusive style somewhat akin to that of his great contemporaries James Joyce and Father Divine. By the late '20s Johnson's lectures had taken a moralizing turn, and he mounted the pulpit more than once to exhort church audiences. He said that his theory of homiletics was to have no set text but to weave a general discourse around "Job, Saul, Esau, Esther and Revelations." On one occasion he preached to a gathering of Methodist bishops, urging them to keep control of themselves at all times and above all to avoid liquor, which could get a hold of a man before he knew it and quickly drag him to disaster. Another notable public address was delivered in 1924 when Johnson appeared before a klavern of the Ku Klux Klan in Danville, Ill., speaking mainly on sportsmanship, fair play and the golden rule.
The following year, Johnson's marriage to Lucille Cameron ended in divorce. He soon married Mrs. Irene Pineau, herself recently divorced, and lived with this fourth (and third white) wife for the rest of his days. Though his earning power was painfully reduced, he kept busy hunting for sideshow engagements and lecture dates, usually paid his bills and always had a fast car to drive, appearing in traffic courts with ominous regularity. He went off the road in Connecticut and followed that by miraculously escaping unhurt from a smashup outside Benton Harbor, Mich. in 1925. "I must confess to having a weakness for fast driving," Johnson said, and later announced that he would race professionally. Fortunately, he received so little encouragement that he gave up this idea.
If Johnson failed to make a fortune in his later years it was not for lack of trying. He attempted to promote fights, to represent a Canadian brewery, to sell stocks and bonds and to produce Othello with himself in the title role. He appeared as master of ceremonies in a Los Angeles nightclub which he operated for a short time. He accepted a few days' work on the Warner Brothers lot, hoping for a break in pictures. At this time the highly respected swindler and playwright, Wilson Mizner, who had a great regard for Johnson, was under contract at Warners as an idea man. When he heard that his old friend was on the premises, Mizner left the thronelike chair in which he slept most of the day and hurried out to embrace Johnson and tell the movie moguls that here was no bit player but a person of importance and distinction. As a result everyone was polite; but no continuing work was offered. The steadiest employment Johnson found in the closing years of his life was at Hubert's Museum, the famous collection of educated fleas, fortune-telling machines, circus freaks and sideshows, which is still in business on West 42nd Street in New York.
Johnson also made appearances as a fighter long after the age when boxers usually are retired. He was 48 when he beat Pat Lester in the bull ring at Nogales, Mexico in 15 rounds. Lester was a strong young heavyweight who had never been defeated and was thought to be a contender for the championship then held by Jack Dempsey. The wire services reported Johnson in his best form, picking off punches as a shortstop catches a bounding ball and joking with friends from the 25th (Negro) U.S. Infantry, whose camp was just across the border and who made a killing with their bets. Two years later Johnson fought his last fight involving a decision, losing to Bill Hartwell in Kansas City. He continued to appear in exhibition bouts until 1945.
Sometimes during these years Johnson would be called to court, but no longer for assault and battery. The legal disputes were usually with landlords or had to do with small claims by agents and promoters. A typical proceeding involved an entrepreneur named Morris Botwen, who said $360.98 was due him in a deal to make and sell a preparation called Old Champ Liniment. Johnson explained to the judge, "I figured out the formula years ago. I have given it away to friends for years, and they all say it will cure toothaches, headaches or any other kind of ache. I just refused to make personal appearances for Botwen because I didn't think the stuff he was making was the same as my product." But a sideshow performer and peddler of nostrums could not afford real trouble with anyone, and Johnson's manner and appearance grew more and more ingratiating as the years went by. He began to look rather like an old-fashioned southern butler, except that he liked to wear bankerish double-breasted coats, set off by a beret, spats and the traditional showman's cane.
At the Chicago World's Fair in 1934 Johnson presided at a booth, ringing the changes on his time-tried spiel and impressing Gilmer Black, the Chicago architect and sportsman, as extremely affable and most remarkably light on his feet. During this engagement he joined Sally Rand and Samuel Insull in autographing a drum and appeared in an "exhibition boxing bout" with the veteran heavyweight Sailor Tom Sharkey. Sharkey rushed at his opponent with serious intent, but Johnson easily held him off or pinioned his arms, flashing a gold-mouthed smile at the spectators and reproving Sharkey. "What you aim to do to me, Tom? What you tryin' to do?"
Advancing years, precarious employment and near poverty did not dull Johnson's zest for life nor prevent him from considering himself to be a citizen with the privilege of speaking out in political debate. Before the Universal Negro Improvement Association, in Detroit, Johnson gave voice to his opinion on a presidential candidate: "Franklin D. Roosevelt is champion now and wearing the belt. Abraham Lincoln was a good fighter in his prime, but he can't help us now. Always string along with the champion." Though his man was elected, no rewards were conferred on Johnson, and two years later he was glad to accept the role of a captured Ethiopian general in a New York Hippodrome Production of Aida. He made a splendid appearance in his leopard skins, but the pay was mostly in publicity. During rehearsals Johnson said to a reporter, "They needed a big strong fellow, and black—and that was me. I am to be the head general of Ethiopia, dressed up like Selassie with robes and all, and they take me up to Memphis—not Memphis, Tenn., but in the old country—and I am a prisoner. Boy, I mean to struggle plenty."
"Do they put you in chains?" he was asked.
"They are supposed to and they'll try to, but I'll put up a good battle," Johnson replied. "If they can get chains on me, okay and good, but I got to show up well. I can't be a ninny!" He then shifted the conversation and remarked that the reason he beat Jeffries was because he was a Republican. "Roosevelt! Roosevelt!" Johnson cried. "He has done more for the black race than Lincoln!"
In this kind of shrewd clowning Johnson gave a perfect demonstration of the surface personality he had developed in his mature years. But he probably showed how he really felt only when behind the wheel of an automobile. It required no psychiatrist to see the anger and arrogance expressed in the dangerous speeds at which his big cars roared over the roads. The extraordinary quickness of Johnson's reflexes—plus great good luck—had always saved him and others from serious injury. But as he approached the age of 70, those marvelously fast reactions began to slow down. And though he did not admit it, his hearing and memory also began to be impaired.
That was the situation on June 10, 1946, when 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 broad 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 Negroes and many white persons 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.