This was originally published at HuffPost (formerly known as The Huffington Post) May 1, 2012 while I lived in Germany. In the age of Trump and in the current climate, this point could more relevant now than I could have ever known when I wrote it.
John Arthur Johnson was born March 31, 1878, in Galveston, Texas. Both of his parents were born into and existed in the dehumanizing cruelty of slavery. Johnson lived in the system of Jim Crow. But he would rise from the boundaries that had held other African Americans down and forever carve his place in history. Today, we remember him as the great boxer Jack Johnson.
When Jack Johnson began his professional boxing career, it was possible for African American to wear the crown of champion in the lower weight classes. Unfortunately, the world heavyweight championship was off limits. But Johnson was not deterred. He pursued this seemingly unattainable goal with great tenacity. For two years, he stalked the reigning world champion Tommy Burns, pressuring him into a fight. On December 26, 1908, Jack Johnson defeated Burns, becoming the first black world heavyweight champion.