The ‘Black Prince’ of Boxing

By Tony McClean, BASN Editor In Chief
Updated: February 22, 2005

NEW HAVEN, CT. (BASN) — When Jack Johnson won the world’s heavyweight champion in 1908, he became the first African-American to wear the crown.

While Johnson was the first, there were several blacks before him who weren’t given the opportunity. One of the many fighters in that era who stood out was dubbed the “Black Prince”.

Peter Jackson was born on July 3, 1861 in St. Croix , West Indies . As a youngster, Jackson moved to Australia and his boxing career began in 1882 in the city of Melbourne .

It began shortly after he used his fists to put down a shipboard mutiny. The incident was reported in the press and soon boxing promoters were after him.

In 1886, Jackson won the Australian heavyweight title by knocking out Tom Leeds in the 30th round. He found it difficult to get opponents in Australia , so he moved to the United States in 1888 and fought his way across the country.

His trip extended to England , but it was back in the U.S. in 1891 where the boxer’s legend was struck. John L. Sullivan, the heavyweight champion of that time, refused to fight Jackson saying he would not box against Negroes.

Many thought Sullivan (who did fight other black men) was afraid and refused to fight him because of Jackson ‘s skills. At 6-feet-2 inches and scaling between 195 and 210 pounds, Jackson was a formidable foe for any heavyweight.

However, “Gentleman Jim” Corbett would meet Jackson on May 21 of that year at the California Athletic Club in San Francisco . After 61 rounds, the bout was finally ruled a draw. In his autobiography, Corbett later wrote that Jackson could have beaten any heavyweight in his day.

Back in England a year later, Jackson won the British Empire championship with a second-round knockout of Jem Smith. He then defended the title with a 10th-round knockout of Frank Slavin.

However in that bout, Jackson suffered two broken ribs that punctured a lung. He then retired for six years, but staged an ill-fated comeback in 1898. In two fights, James J. Jeffries and Jim Jeffords knocked him out.

Three years later on July 13, 1901, Jackson died of tuberculosis in Roma, Queensland Australia . It was contracted from his 1892 lung injury. On one side of his headstone, a inscription read “This was a man.”

He would later be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990. Jackson ‘s career record was 23-3-5 with 17 knockouts and 36 no decisions.

NOTE: The African-American Registry contributed to this story.