First African-American World Heavyweight Champion, John Arthur (“Jack”) Johnson (March 31, 1878 – June 10, 1946), nicknamed the “Galveston Giant,” was an American boxer. At the height of the Jim Crow era, Johnson became the first African American world heavyweight boxing champion (1908-1915). In a documentary about his life, Ken Burns notes that “for more than thirteen years, Jack Johnson was the most famous and the most notorious African-American on Earth.”
Johnson made his debut as a pro on 1 November 1897 in Galveston, when he knocked-out Charley Brooks in the second round of a 15-round bout for what was billed as the Texas State Middleweight Title. In his third pro fight on 8 May 1899, he battled “Klondike” (John W. Haynes or Haines), an African American heavyweight known as “The Black Hercules”, in Chicago. Klondike (so called as he was considered a rarity, like the gold in The Klondike), who had declared himself the “Black Heavyweight Champ”, won on a technical knock-out in the fifth round of a scheduled six-rounder. The two fighters met again in 1900, with the first contest resulting in a draw as both fighters were on the their feet at the end of 20 rounds. Johnson won the second fight by a TKO when Klondike refused to come out for the 14th round. Johnson did not claim Klondike’s unrecognized title.
Ezekiel Jackson talks about the respect he has for one of the trailblazers in WWE, Ron Simmons. The first African-American World Heavyweight Champion also weighs in on his humbling accomplishment.