Activist seeks park for boxing legend Johnson
By Leigh Jones
The Daily News
Published September 28, 2009
GALVESTON — When Casey Cutler looks across the barren land at the northern end of 17th Street, he doesn’t see the muddy ground interspersed with patchy grass. He doesn’t visualize the public housing apartments that more than a hundred families called home before Hurricane Ike.
Cutler looks at the vacant property and sees an opportunity to heal a city and honor a man who spent his life fighting for racial equality.
As part of the Galveston Housing Authority’s plans to rebuild the public housing development at Magnolia Homes, 1601 The Strand, Cutler hopes to persuade officials to dedicate a park to legendary boxer and island native Jack Johnson.
The city owes Johnson a proper symbol of the glory he brought to Galveston, Cutler said. It also owes him an apology for never recognizing him during his lifetime for his accomplishments in the ring, Cutler said.
“The time is ripe to make things right,” he said.
The Galveston Giant
Many boxing enthusiasts say Johnson, known as “The Galveston Giant,” was the best heavyweight to ever enter the ring.
In the early days of his career, he won every match, but boxing officials refused to give him a chance to try for the world title because he was African-American. Johnson finally traveled to Sydney, Australia, where he defeated Canada’s Tommy Burns on Dec. 26, 1908.
Two years later, Johnson defended his title against former American world champion James Jefferies in a July 4, 1910, bout billed as the “Fight of the Century.”
Galveston’s leaders organized a parade in Johnson’s honor but canceled the invitation after learning he was traveling with his wife, a white woman.
In 1913, Johnson was convicted of violating the Mann Act by having a consensual relationship with a white woman. He served 10 months in prison.
Righting A Wrong
Congress approved a resolution in July urging President Barack Obama to pardon Johnson, but Galveston officials never have done anything to make up for the way the city’s forefathers treated the island’s most famous resident, Cutler said.
In August, Cutler asked the city council to issue a proclamation apologizing for institutional support that undermined Johnson’s civil rights and legacy.
He asked the council to adopt a second proclamation offering support for the proposed Jack Johnson Memorial Park.
The Galveston Chamber of Commerce board of directors unanimously approved a resolution of support for the park on Aug. 19.
The tentative plan for the new public housing development at the Magnolia Homes site includes green space that could be used for the park.
Housing authority officials did not respond to requests for comment for this story.
Cutler’s vision is an awesome idea, Kim Collins, president of the Jack Johnson Foundation, said.
Collins, an artist, is working on designs for the park’s layout, which Cutler hopes will include plaques honoring Galveston’s other minority leaders. The foundation hopes to have a life-size statue of Johnson installed at the park.
Passing the proposed resolutions and naming the park in Johnson’s honor won’t cost the city or the Galveston Housing Authority a thing, Cutler said.
Both actions would be a salve on the festering wounds of racism, he said.
“Let’s fix what was done in the past to show we’re bigger people with different norms,” he said.