Jack Johnson and Galveston, Texas

By Vikram Birring

Jack Johnson
Jack Johnson

One would think that Jack Johnson is a revered figure in Galveston, Texas. Instead, the most famous person in the history of the city has a complicated relationship with his hometown even after death.


Johnson is well known as the first black heavyweight champion in boxing. He was also known for his flamboyant lifestyle and dalliances with white women. It seems that this still bristles some in Galveston, as can be attested by the location of his statue, which itself was built a century too late.


Before the statue was ever built, a local artist created a sculpture of Johnson out of a tree. As soon as it was completed, a local homeowner association demanded its relocation. It is odd that a city would be so resistant to celebrating its most famous resident, but the reality is the cloud of prejudice still looms large in Galveston despite the passage of time.


The statue had its own location problems. Originally, it was proposed to be placed along the seawall. However, this caused an uproar amongst some in the community, and it was instead placed near the city’s high school in a rough part of town. Its location is hidden unless one knows where to go; it’s in a park in front of a church in a residential area.


I make my way to pay respect upon my visits to Galveston, but I am always the only one. I wonder to myself what could have been had the statue been built on the seawall, like the one of Selena Quintanilla a few hundred miles southwest on the coast in Corpus Christi. That statue sees hundreds of thousands of visitors a year, while Johnson’s receives a mere fraction.

Jack Johnson
Jack Johnson

One piece of good news is that Donald Trump pardoned Johnson this year, after years of futile efforts by senators John McCain and Harry Reid. To be fair, the pardon was more a favor to friend Sylvester Stallone, and an irony since Trump and Johnson both have a similar penchant for beautiful women.


Nevertheless, it is an act that was long overdue, and Jack Johnson’s soul can finally rest in peace, his name cleared for the annals of time.


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