National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
Jack Johnson: American\African American
Jack Johnson was a world champion heavyweight boxer, nightclub owner, and automobile enthusiast who lived his life in defiance of Jim Crow segregation. White boxers avoided Johnson since they feared losing to a man of an "inferior race," and he chased a few around the world to shame them into fighting him. His boxing style combined power, equipoise, and looseness: he stood in the center of the ring and taunted opponents as they tried to avoid his long reach. A charismatic man with extraordinary confidence, Johnson married three white women. A night owl and raconteur, he raced around in convertibles and often played classical cello at his Club Deluxe in Chicago. The legend that Johnson was refused passage on the Titanic is untrue, but it reveals the era’s racial realities. The need for a "Great White Hope" in boxing began with Johnson, and white boxers refused to fight blacks for a generation. In 1971 Miles Davis composed a soundtrack in his honor, A Tribute to Jack Johnson.