Jack Johnson became the first African-American to win the world heavyweight crown on Dec. 26, 1908, a date ironically known as Boxing Day in certain parts of the world. He held onto the title until 1915.
The Galveston, Texas-native was the son of former slaves. To help support his family, which included eight siblings, Johnson dropped out of school after only a few years to work on local sculleries and ships. At around age 16, he was introduced to boxing and eagerly pursued a career in the sport.
In 1913, an all-white jury convicted Johnson of crossing state lines with a white woman for "immoral purposes." He was sentenced to a year in prison. A group of bi-partisan senators have urged President Obama to posthumously pardon Johnson and correct a historical wrong.
As Johnson built a reputation on the Black boxing circuit, Johnson set his eyes on the heavyweight title. Not surprisingly, white boxers didn't want to get in the ring with him, but his prowess in the ring soon took the decision out of their hands.
Johnson died in an automobile accident in Raleigh, North Carolina, in 1946.
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(Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty Images)