View images of Jack Johnson, actor James Earl Jones, who played Jack Johnson in the film, “The Great White Hope,” boxer Muhammad Ali, and more. Jack Johnson (1878-1946) was the first African American Heavyweight Champion of the World. His success triggered race riots, racial debates, and tension during the Jim Crow era, as Johnson dominated the sport of boxing. The white community sought a “great white hope” to beat Johnson and found it in retired boxer Jim Jeffries. The “Battle of the Century” took place between the men on July 4, 1910, in Reno, Nevada. It ended with a TKO in the 15th round, with Johnson maintaining his title.