Jack Johnson and Hattie McClay, Stanley Park, Wednesday 10 March 1909
Jack Johnson became the first black heavyweight boxing champion of the world after clobbering Canadian Tommy Burns in Australia on Boxing Day in 1908. This was a big deal in the Jim Crow era, and white supremacists quickly began the search for a “Great White Hope” who could regain the title for the white race.
After winning the coveted title in Australia, Johnson came to Vancouver with Hattie McClay. He introduced her as Mrs Johnson even though they were not legally married. Despite being the most famous black man on the planet, Johnson and his white paramour were turned away from the St Francis, Irving, Metropole, Rainier, and Astor hotels. Finally a black jazz drummer, police trainer, and sports promoter named George Paris put the couple up at his home in the East End.
Johnson was scheduled to fight Denver Ed Martin, aka “The Colorado Giant,” but Martin skipped town before the bout. Next up was a little known boxer from Tacoma named Victor McLaglen. Johnson beat McLaglen, who would later find greater success in Hollywood than he did in the ring, winning the 1935 best actor Oscar for his role in The Informer.
While in Vancouver, Johnson played cards at the Railway Porters’ Club, saw a vaudeville show at the Pantages, and drove around Stanley Park where he and Hattie posed as Napoleon and Josephine for a Hollow Tree photographer. Johnson felt an affinity with Napoleon because the two men fought their way up from humble origins and against incredible odds.
UPDATE: I found a New York Times article that says the Dominion Hotel rented a room to Johnson and his “wife” (she was actually a hooker from New York), and that they only spent part of the night at George Paris’s home.
Source: Library of Congress #2002695478, via PopArtMachine.com
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