Jack Johnson, nicknamed the "Galveston Giant" was arguably the best heavyweight of his generation and was the first black heavyweight champion of the world – 1908 – 1915. He not only was the champion during the white "Jim Crow" era of American history, but, he drove fast cars, kept company with white women and otherwise refused to act the way white "Jim Crow" citizens expected a black man to act – like a second class citizen. The white boxing establishment wanted to get rid of him and have a white champion. But, Johnson defeated the next five opponents, all of whom were white. There was a battle cry to find a white man to defeat Johnson. Finally, Jim Jeffries, a white former champ, who reigned from 1899 to 1904, was persuaded to come out retirement. He had never been defeated before his retirement. The fact he was out of shape and out of practice was less important then finding a white to take away Johnson’s championship.
The fight of the century was held July 4, 1910 in Reno. With radio and newspaper coverage about the "white hope" taking the championship back. In Johnson’s corner was James Corbett, himself a former champ. Jeffries was known for being able to take punishment in the ring and he received it from Johnson throughout the fight. He peppered Jeffries with blows and played with him. It’s reported that during the fight Corbett kept up a running commentary aimed at Johnson. Once, Johnson was heard saying back "Your mammy teach you to talk like that Mr. Corbett?" During round fourteen, Johnson sent Jeffries to the canvas three times – the first time in his career Jeffries had never been knocked down. Johnson was clearly in control of the fight. One spectator has written that while Corbett continued to verbally attack Johnson, Johnson maneuvered Jeffries around with his back to his own corner. Then Johnson said loud enough to be heard by the first five rows "Look out Mr. Corbett. Here comes your white hope." and with a blow knocked Jefferies into the corner and Corbett. The fight ended with Jeffries corner throwing in the towel for another win by Johnson.
Johnson won seventy eight of his bouts with forty four knockouts. He died in Raleigh, NC on June 10, 1946 after crashing his car into a tree. He was elected into the boxing hall of fame in 1954.
Later, Joseph Louis Barrow, known as the "brown bomber," Joe Louis, became a black world heavyweight champ. On June 22, 1937 he knocked out James Braddock in the eighth round and became the champ. (Russell Crowe starred in a movie about Braddock, Cinderella Man.) Louis held the title longer (12 years) and defended it more often (25 times) then any other champion. Louis defended his crown as often as six times in six months. One of Louis’s greatest fights was his 1941 thirteenth round knockout of Billy Conn. After defeating Jersey Joe Walcott in 1947, Louis went into retirement. He died in 1981 at age 67 years.