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Jack JohnsonJack Johnson

By the turn of the century, the color line in sports was firmly in place, but the charismatic and controversial Jack Johnson smashed this line with a firm one-two to the jaw. Though boxing had long roots, it was a fairly new sport to Americans in the 1880s, and though banned in many states, one law which was standard across the board was to deny black boxers the right to spar with white opponents. To circumvent this rule, many African-Americans traveled to France, where mixed-race bouts were not illegal, which is where solid contenders such as Johnson, Sam Langford, and Joe Jeannette built their reputations. This law was relaxed to an extent in the late 1890s, but black boxers were still barred from fighting for the world heavyweight championship. Jack Johnson refused to accept this restriction, and he worked hard to prove his mettle, winning at least 50 fights against both white and black opponents in 1902, and beating "Denver" Ed Martin over 20 rounds for the World Colored Heavyweight Championship in 1903.

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