Wednesday, January 20, 2010

January 20, 1910 - Jack Johnson Charged with Assault

African American boxer Jack Johnson was finally the heavyweight champion of the world. He had won the World "Colored" Heavyweight Championship some in 1903 by beating Ed Martin by decision in Los Angeles. By 1910 he had amassed a record of 50 wins, 5 losses and 9 draws. Since that time he had defended the "Colored" title over twenty times but struggled to get a chance to fight for the World Heavyweight title.

World Champion Jim Jefferies had held the title from 1899 to 1905 when he retired undefeated. In 1902 Johnson had destroyed the champ's younger brother Jack Jefferies and told Champion Jim " I can lick you too". Jim Jefferies, though refused to fight black opponents. Like John L. Sullivan before him he professed to be willing to fight anyone-as long as he was white. The risk of losing the championship to a negro was too great.

After Jefferies retired the new champion, Marvin Hart "The Kentucky Plumber" who had accounted for one of Johnson's 5 losses by beating him in San Francisco in 1905 also refused to fight a negro. Hart lost the title after only one fight to a Canadian from Hanover, Ontario named Noah Brusso in 1906. Brusso, who had changed his name to Tommy Burns also initially refused to fight negroes. But after a promoter named Hugh McIntosh offered Burns $30,000 gave in and agreed to fight Jack Johnson on December 26, 1908 in Sydney, Australia. Johnson would receive $5,000.

The fight, held at the Stadium at Rushcutters Bay was stopped by police in the 14th rounds with Johnson pummelling Burns. The film crews were ordered by the police to stop filming just before Johnson knocked Burns to the canvas in the 14th. Johnson was awarded the fight on a decision but it was essentially a knockout. There is no recorded moving image of the knockout that gave Jack Johnson the world heavyweight title.

After the fight, Johnson returned to the States and the "sporting" lifestyle that he become accustomed to. He travelled openly with (and slept with) white women, Hattie McClay, Belle Schreiber, Etta Duryea and others. He frequented brothels and saloons, owned fast cars, which he usually drove too fast and made comments to the press reinforcing the white view of him as profligate, arrogant and amoral.
Most whites were enraged at Johnson's antics and a promoter named Tex Rickard saw this as an enormous opportunity. As a young man, Rickard went to the Klondike during the gold rush of the 1890s and opened a gambling hall. He later worked as a U.S Marshall. By 1906, he was running a saloon in Goldfield, Nevada, where he promoted his first boxing match. He would later found the New York Rangers hockey team and build the third Madison Square Garden.

In late 1909 Rickard offered a $101,000 guarantee plus the majority of the fight film proceeds if former champ Jim Jefferies would come out of retirement to fight Jack Johnson. The winner would get two thirds of the purse and each fighter would receive a $10,000 bonus.

Jefferies agreed to leave his alfalfa farm in California and re-enter the ring and fight Johnson on July 4, 1910. Jefferies would become the "The Great WhiteHope" and would be charged with the responsibility of retuning the Championship to its rightful race.

The fight would be held in Utah- or San Francisco- or Reno, Nevada. Wherever Rickard could get local authorities to agree to allow a sport that was now banned in many places in the United States. He also had to convince authorities that the fight was on the level. Many believed that the only way that Jefferies would come back was if Johnson agreed to lose, guaranteeing Jefferies victory.

With the money from the Burns fight as well as a guarantee of a huge payday coming up in July, Johnson should have been on easy street. But he spent his money faster than he made it. So, Johnson parlayed his fame into another stream of income, by joining the vaudeville circuit in a show entitled "Follies of the Day". In the revue Johnson joked, danced, shadow boxed and played the bass violin at which he was quote proficient. It paid him $1300 per week.

After finishing his show at the Miner's Theatre on the Bowery on January 20,1910. Johnson proceed to Barron Wilkins saloon at 253 West 35th street. Sitting at a table near the bar were two "sporting" women and Norman Pinder, described as a "small consumptive negro" Pinder bragged to the women that he had once been good friends with the champ. After Johnson joined the group an argument broke out about whether Pinder would by beer or wine for Johnson.

According to the police blotter Jack proceeded to " hit him (Pinder) with his right hand, kick him about the face and about the head, threw a chair at him, turned over a table on him and pulled out a gun from his pocket". Johnson was arraigned and posted $1,000 bail. It was not the first time he had been arrested and it certainly would not be the last.

Later in January of 1910 congress would pass the "Mann Act" which banned the interstate transport of females for “immoral purposes.” Officials would use this legislation to arrest Jack again a few years down the road as a punishment for his consorting with white women.

The charges for his assault with Pinder would eventually be dropped and after the Jefferies fight, which Johnson won, Jack would return to the New York whenever his vaudeville activities took him there. Later in 1910 he would be corralled by Tammany Hall officials to speak churches in black districts in preparation for the November elections. Johnson had always considered himself a Republican, but money talks and it would appear that Tammany came up with yet another revenue stream for the champ.

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