Jack Johnson Interview!

Being dead nearly seventy years didn’t stop former heavyweight champ Jack Johnson from sitting down with me and chatting up his story, viagra sale malady his experiences in Chicago, diagnosis and his thoughts on sports today.\n\nChris Lamberti: Welcome Jack Johnson.  I thought it appropriate that I talk to you now, at the close of Black History Month.  February is also the month in which you beat “Denver” Ed Martin to win the “Negro heavyweight championship” in 1903.  Of course, in 1908 you became the first African American world heavyweight boxing champion.  That was kind of a big deal.\n\nJack Johnson: So I’ve been told.\n\nCL: And next month you would have been celebrating your 135th birthday, so congratulations on that and thank you so much for being here with me.\n\nJJ: Thank you.  It’s my pleasure.\n\nCL: Tell me about your history in the city of Chicago.\n\nJJ: Well, I came to Chicago professionally for the first time in 1899.  I was twenty-one years old.  That year I won fame in a six man battle royal at the old Tattersall Arena at 16th and State streets, where I was known as “Lil Arthur”—Arthur is my middle name.  I knocked out four opponents.  As I turned on the fifth, the fighter leaped right out of the ring.  George Siler, who was supervising the event, turned to a ring attendant and said: “With a good trainer, there’s the next heavyweight champion of the world.\”\n\nCL: Siler was a famous early-era boxing referee and Chicago sportswriter, right?\n\nJJ: The man used too much mustache wax.  Anyways, since then I’ve spent a lot of time here.  I have a home in Chicago at 3344 South Wabash Avenue.  I opened a popular club called the Café de Champion on the South Side.  And of course, I’m buried here.\n\nCL: Yes, I’ve seen the gravesite over at Graceland Cemetery, very nice.\n\nJJ: Thank you.\n\nCL: How was it that you became the first black heavyweight champion?\n\nJJ: I’d been trying to get a title fight for years.  But no white champion wanted to give a black man that chance.  When Tommy Burns won the title, we followed him—my manager Sam Fitzpatrick and I—to Australia.  In Australia there was some affection for a former black heavyweight champion named Peter Jackson.  The press there got on Burns for ducking me.  When we presented Burns with the purse he demanded, the fight was on.\n\nCL: Burns was no match for you.\n\nJJ: I toyed with him a bit, then knocked him out.  And this was very hard for white America to take.  For centuries they had convinced themselves that they were the superior race, and that white men were the apex of civilization.  Boxing takes brawn and skill, but it also takes discipline and cunning.  It was thought that African American men did not possess these traits.  I proved them wrong.  The black community was overjoyed, but in the white community there was anger and denial.\n\nCL: Enter Jim Jefferies.\n\nJJ: They persuaded Jim Jeffries to fight me in 1910.  He was a white fighter who had retired undefeated a few years prior.  He was thought to be unbeatable.  The bout was held in Reno, Nevada.  Leading up to the fight, I was getting letters from whites all over the country threatening that I would never leave the ring alive.  But Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp let it be known that they would be at ringside and that it would be unhealthy for any individual or group to try any rough stuff.\n\nCL: Wyatt Earp?  That sounds made up.\n\nJJ: Watch it, Professor.\n\nCL: Alright.\n\nJJ: My trainer inspected my food before every meal prior to that fight, to make sure it wasn’t poisoned.  All spectators entering the gate were searched for weapons.\n\nCL: And then they witnessed you defeat Jefferies handily and retain your title.\n\nJJ: There were race riots all over the country after that.\n\nCL: Talk a little about race relations in Chicago one hundred years ago.\n\nJJ: In many ways, Chicago was a very progressive town.  Yes it was segregated, but in the black area of the city along State Street around 31st and 35th Streets, known as the Stroll, with all of its music and nightlife, there was a lot of social mingling between African Americans and whites in “black and tan” clubs like mine.  Whites in Chicago were OK with you as long as you kept to yourself.  But I didn’t.  I flaunted my wealth, and let it be known that I had relationships with white women.  I became a threat to the establishment.  They put me in jail on some trumped up charge.  The prison in Chicago was segregated.  The guards kept me separate from the white inmates.  This was in 1912.\n\nCL: People usually don’t associate this kind of institutional segregation with cities outside of the Jim Crow South.\n\nJJ: Exactly.  Hey, what ya got there?\n\nCL: Huh?\n\nJJ: Is that a hamburger?\n\nCL: Oh yeah.  Well, in Serbia they call it pljeskavica.  It has some spices and it’s in some hollowed out bread like a pita with a bunch of veggies.\n\nJJ: Can I try it?\n\nCL: Heh, want to have someone check it for poison first?\n\nJJ: That’s not funny, that’s sick.\n\nCL: You’re right.  Here, knock yourself out champ.\n\nJJ: Man, that’s good!\n\nCL: I know, right?  Hey, Michael Jordan just turned fifty years old.  Like you, he’s an African American athlete who has gained international fame.  He’s also dabbled in film acting.  Do you see any other similarities?\n\nJJ: We’re both bald.\n\nCL: You’re being coy.\n\nJJ: A little.  It’s different for black athletes today.\n\nCL: You mean in terms of overt racism?\n\nJJ: Well, that’s one thing.  I mean, before I faced a white fighter named Frank Moran in a 1914 title bout, former champion James J. Corbett wrote in the Chicago Tribune, \”I would give my right arm to see him put the big coon away.\”  And they called Corbett \”the Gentleman.\”\n\nCL: How about outside of the ring?\n\nJJ:  All the time.  When I opened the Cafe de Champion right off State Street, it drew onlookers and patrons from all over Chicago.  Police officers had to control the crowds.  An orchestra played downstairs while local entertainers sang upstairs.  The joint sparkled and the event was all class.  But the Tribune tried to be funny in a silly story about cuspidors: \”Jes look at dem spit-cuspidoah\” they quote my manager as saying, \”Moah money dan some coons kin git in dey lifetime.\”  But that’s what they did.  Put you down, tried to keep the “Negro” in his place.\n\nCL: What place was that?\n\nJJ: Subjugated and subordinated.\n\nCL: Is there racism reflected in sports today?\n\nJJ: Now it’s much more hidden, it’s more insidious in a lot of ways.\n\nCL: What do you mean by that?\n\nJJ: Take the NBA for example.  You have a disproportionate number of African American athletes from lower-income communities while NBA management, owners, and spectators—those who can afford tickets to attend the games—are disproportionately white.  We can physically separate ourselves from the poverty, but anyone who watches sports can’t ignore that there is a racial component to social inequality, and it’s rooted in a system of discrimination.\n\nCL: On that very poignant note, I think we’ll wrap it up.  Thanks very much again, champ.\n\nJJ: No problem at all.  Say, you think you can give me another bite of that pljeskavica?\n\nCL: I’d better; I wouldn’t want you to sick Wyatt Earp on me.\n\nJJ: You’re on thin ice, mister.\n\n \n\n

\n\n \n\nBibliography (newspaper articles accessed through Chicago Public Library website):\n\nUnforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson Website\n\n\”Creation of Chicago Sports,\” Encyclopedia of Chicago Online\n\nCAFE DE CHAMPION? SURE IS!: Jack Johnson’s Place to Have Solid Silver Cuspidors\nChicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922); Jul 9, 1912;\nProQuest Historical Newspapers: Chicago Tribune (1849-1989)\npg. 3\n\nPrisoners take a Protest\nYoung, Frank A\nThe Chicago Defender (Big Weekend Edition) (1905-1966); Nov 16, 1912;\nProQuest Historical Newspapers: Chicago Defender (1910-1975)\npg. 3\n\nHAS MORAN CHANCE TO BEAT JOHNSON IN PARIS BATTLE?\nChicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922); Jun 25, 1914;\nProQuest Historical Newspapers: Chicago Tribune (1849-1989)\npg. 13\n\nWORLD ACCLAIMS JACK JOHNSON KING OF PRIZE FIGHTERS\nGUS RHODES Special to the Chicago Defender\nThe Chicago Defender (Big Weekend Edition) (1905-1966); Jul 4, 1914;\nProQuest Historical Newspapers: Chicago Defender (1910-1975)\npg. 1\n\nJack Johnson Knocked Out James Jeffries in the Fifteenth Round\nThe Chicago Defender (National edition) (1921-1967); Mar 17, 1923;\nProQuest Historical Newspapers: Chicago Defender (1910-1975)\npg. 10\n\nJACK JOHNSON KILLED IN CRASH: Former Champ Dixie Auto Victim\nThe Chicago Defender (National edition) (1921-1967); Jun 15, 1946;\nProQuest Historical Newspapers: Chicago Defender (1910-1975)\npg. 1\n\nJack Johnson Wins World’s Heavyweight Championship From Tommy Burns\nYoung, Fay\nThe Chicago Defender (National edition) (1921-1967); Sep 25, 1948;\nProQuest Historical Newspapers: Chicago Defender (1910-1975)\npg. 10

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