Jack Johnson, Inventor of the “Monkey Wrench”
John Arthur Johnson (March 31, 1878 – June 10, 1946), better known as Jack Johnson and nicknamed the “Galveston Giant”, was an American boxer and arguably the best heavyweight of his generation. He was the first black Heavyweight Champion of the World, 1908-1915.
In a documentary about his life, Ken Burns said: “For more than thirteen years, Jack Johnson was the most famous, and the most notorious, African-American on Earth”.
Jack Johnson was born in Galveston, Texas as the third child and first son of Henry and Tina “Tiny” Johnson, former slaves and faithful Methodists, who both worked blue-collar jobs to earn enough to raise six children (the Johnson’s had nine children, four of whom survived to adulthood, and an adopted son) and taught them how to read and write.
Jack Johnson had five years of formal education. Johnson fought his first bout, a 16-round victory, at age 15. He turned professional around 1897, fighting in private clubs, and by age 18 was earning more in one night than his father earned in an entire week. In 1901, Joe Choynski, the small Jewish heavyweight, came to Galveston to fight Jack Johnson.
Choynski, an experienced boxer, knocked Johnson out in round three, and the two were arrested for “engaging in an illegal contest” and put in jail for 23 days. (Although boxing was one of the three most popular sports in America at the time, along with baseball and horse-racing, the practice was officially illegal in most states, including Texas.) Choynski began training Johnson in jail.