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Boxing legend Jack Johnson honored in hometown of Galveston with state historical marker

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Can you name the first African American heavyweight boxing champion of the world? Did you know he was born and raised in Galveston? His name was Jack Johnson, and on Saturday, there was a major step in cementing a legacy so many don't want to see forgotten.

On a gray, overcast day in Galveston, the island paid tribute to one if its brightest sons: Arthur John "Jack" Johnson.

"This is a very great occasion, the fact that the state of Texas has recognized my uncle for his achievements," Johnson's great-great niece Linda Haywood said.

He was recognized with a historical marker at Jack Johnson Park, a symbol of the life that Johnson led as the first African American heavyweight boxing champion of the world, winning the title in 1908.

"I am extremely proud of all of his contributions to society and history," Haywood said.

Johnson held the heavyweight title for an amazing seven years. Rising to greatness from humble beginnings, the marker now describes him often fighting discrimination and prejudice in the first half of the 20th century.

"It's unbelievable the courage that he had," Haywood said.

Johnson wasn't just a boxer though.

"This is a great day for America. It's a great day for Galveston," Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee said.

Jackson Lee calls him an ambassador, a role model for the black boxers who would follow him into the ring.

"Many of them drew their styles, knowingly or not, from Jack Johnson. But they also drew the interest of being benefactors, philanthropists, to help people. That is what Jack Johnson did," she said.

Johnson was indicted and convicted -- while still the champion -- for escorting a woman across state lines. He twice married white women. The conviction was seen as retaliation. Congress has pushed for a presidential pardon -- one that has yet to come.

Johnson died in a car crash in 1947.

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