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John Arthur "Jack" Johnson Passes Away

Today in Masonic History John Arthur "Jack" Johnson passes away in 1946.

John Arthur "Jack" Johnson was an American boxer.

Johnson was born in Galveston, Texas on March 31st, 1878. He was the son of two former slaves. Despite the racially charged climate of the country after the American Civil War, Johnson, as a young man, did not see the racial prejudices that occurred during the time. Johnson grew up in a poor section of Galveston and many of his friends were a "gang" of white boys. He would comment that growing up he would pal around with them, eat at their homes, stay overnight at their homes and be given cookies by their mothers. He attributed the situation to the fact that everyone in his neighborhood were going through the same issues.

Johnson had a strong relationship with his father. Of his father Johnson would say he was "The most perfect physical specimen that he had ever seen." The statement itself shows the admiration for his father when you know that he was father was a man who stood only 5ft 5in tall and had a atrophied right leg from his service during the Civil War.

Johnson would only attend 5 years of school. He would leave school to find work to help support the family. He would end up in Dallas where he would apprentice for a carriage painter, his boss was an avid boxing fan and later in life Johnson would credit him for getting him interested in the sport.

In 1894 at the age of 16, Johnson would head for Manhattan. In Manhattan he would get a job at a gym. There is where Johnson truly began to hone his skills as a fighter. He would also develop his own unique style of boxing. When Johnson returned to Galveston he was a much bigger and stronger man. He would shortly after returning have a fight with a local man who claimed that Johnson had wronged him. The two men would fight on a local beach. Johnson would win the fight and received $1.50, despite the fact that prize fighting was illegal in Galveston.

Until 1901, Johnson would fight in various forums, generally against other African-American fighters. In 1901, Johnson would fight Joe Choynski, a popular and more experienced fighter than Johnson. Choynski would knock out Johnson in the third round. Shortly after the knockout the two men were arrested, prize fighting was still illegal in Galveston, and taken to jail. They were both held on $5,000.00 bail. Crowds came to the jail when the sheriff declared that both men could go home at night if they fought in the jail cell. Eventually the bail was reduced to an affordable amount. Choynski and Johnson would became life long friends.

By 1903, Johnson had truly developed his fighting style as he was going for the World Colored Heavyweight Championship. Johnson's style was to allow his opponent to tire himself out. In earlier rounds he would be more defensive in his approach ducking punches and countering more and more as the fight pressed on. For this tactic he was criticized by the media as being cowardly, despite the fact that "Gentlemen" Jim Corbett used a similar technique and a decade earlier was praised by the media for this tactic.

In 1903, Johnson won the World Colored Heavyweight Championship, he would hold the title for 2,151 days the third longest in the history of the Colored Heavyweight Championship. He would have the title vacated in 1908 when, in Sydney Australia he would win the World Heavyweight Title against Canadian Tommy Burns.

Racial animosity over the defeat Burns ran deep. A call was put out for a "Great White Hope" to take on Johnson. In 1910 it was believed that person was found in former undefeated Heavyweight Champion James J. Jeffries. Jeffries had no desire to fight and it was only after large sums of money were given to Jeffries that he decided to come out of retirement. Jeffries had to shed 100 pounds to get back into fighting weight. Prior to the fight Jeffries commented "It is my intention to go right after my opponent and knock him out as soon as possible." Jeffries wife, however had a different take on things stating, "I'm not interested in prizefighting but I am interested in my husband's welfare, I do hope this will be his last fight." Johnson simply stated "May the best man win."

The fight would take place on July 4th, 1910 in Reno Nevada and was billed as the "Fight of the Century". By the 15th round Jeffreis had been knocked down twice, the first time ever in his career and his corner threw in the towel. A humbled Jeffries after the fight stated "I could never have whipped Johnson at my best." Jeffries went on to say, "I couldn't have hit him. No, I couldn't have reached him in 1,000 years."

After the fight there were massive riots through out the United States. In 25 states and 50 cities people were in the streets. Whites felt humiliated by the defeat of Jeffries, Black were elated by the victory of Johnson. In some cities, like Chicago the "riots" were merely celebrations of Johnson's win and the police allowed the largely peaceful celebrations to continue. In other cities however the riots turned violent with police and angry white protesters clashing with black revelers.

In 1912, Johnson was arrested for violations of the Mann Act, which was "transporting women across state lines for immoral purposes" when he traveled across state lines with his soon to be wife, Lucille Cameron, an alleged prostitute. Cameron refused to cooperate with authorities. Shortly after another woman was brought forward who Johnson had allegedly crossed state lines with and again was an alleged prostitute. She was willing to cooperate and Johnson was quickly convicted. While out on bail, Johnson and Cameron fled the country and spent the next seven years traveling Europe and South America. Johnson would eventually surrender and do his 1 year and 1 day in prison. While in prison, Johnson needed a specialized tool for a job he was doing so he modified a wrench. He would patent his idea.

It would be 1915 before Johnson would lose his World Heavyweight title. Prior to the loss, in France Johnson would be in the first World Heavyweight Title Fight between two black men.

On June 10, 1946, Johnson would pass away from a car accident. He was racing away from a restaurant, angry that they refused to serve him.

Johnson joined Forfar and Kincardine Lodge No 225, Dundee, Scotland in 1911. There was considerable opposition to his membership, principally on the grounds of race. The lodge was suspended by the Grand Lodge of Scotland and eventually Johnson's initiation fees were returned.