Jack Johnson: The Stuff of Boxing Legend

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Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, Dorothy Cross, great niece of the first African American heavyweight boxing champion John Arthur "Jack" Johnson, Cross's daughter Constance Hines, and family friend Betsy Victoria listen as Cross's daughter Linda Haywood. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, Dorothy Cross, great niece of the first African American heavyweight boxing champion John Arthur “Jack” Johnson, Cross’s daughter Constance Hines, and family friend Betsy Victoria listen as Cross’s daughter Linda Haywood. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

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LANHAM, Md. (CBSDC/WPGC) - Boxing’s first black heavyweight champion, Jack Johnson, was born to former slaves in Galveston, Texas in 1878.

Standing more than 6 feet tall, he was also known as the Galveston Giant.

Johnson first won the African American world heavyweight boxing championship belt in 1908, knocking out reigning champ Tommy Burns, and hung onto it until 1915.

Former Redskin Lavar Arrington of 106.7 The Fan says Johnson was the stuff of legend.

“You see the pictures of them and how they talked about those guys fighting bare knuckles and stuff like that,” Arrington said. “Jack Johnson was one of those guys you look at as a man’s man.”

Johnson’s story is the basis of the play and subsequent 1970 movie, “The Great White Hope,” starring James Earl Jones.

Check back all month for WPGC’s tribute to Black History Month.

99.1 WNEW’s Cheryl Simone contributed to this report

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