James Josey, founder of the Galveston African-American Museum, called Johnson “the most famous and notorious African-American” of his day. Johnson grew up at 810 Broadway at the height of the Jim Crow era.
Johnson’s introduction to professional boxing began as unprofessionally as it could have, Josey said.
Johnson honed his skills as a street fighter while serving time in the Galveston jail, Josey said. Not long after that, he entered the ring as a legitimate fighter and went on to become a lightening rod for racial controversy by beating white fighters and marrying white women.
The dedication included the unveiling of a life-size statue of Johnson, gloves on and poised in a fighting stance.
Annie Mae Charles, 99, the first African-American policewoman in Galveston, said the park and its statue showed that Galveston was still a tight-knit community, despite its reputation as a tourist town.
“Galveston is still on the line,” Charles said. “People are still trying to lift up this community by coming together and working together. This is a blessing for the young people here. Maybe it will inspire children to do something like that with their lives instead of ending up in prison.”
Former Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas spoke of the symbolic freedom that was inherent in every park.
“Parks are specially designed to exercise freedom,” Thomas said. “There could be no more fitting tribute to a man whose greatest foe was the unjust legal system.”
Johnson fought his last fight at the age of 67. He died in North Carolina when he lost control of his car while speeding away from a restaurant where he had been refused service because of his race, Josey said.
Source: Whitney Hodgin, DailyNews