Seventy five years ago on 10th June 1946, boxer Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight champion of the world, died aged 68. In the early part of the 20th century he shook up boxing to its racist foundations while becoming one of the best known figures on the planet and one of the most notorious.

He was the first black sportsperson of universal renown and pioneered the way for others, including Muhammad Ali. Having overcome the colour bar to wrest the title away from champion Tommy Burns in Sydney in 1908, Johnson then had a target firmly pinned to his back by the white establishment and soon became a hate figure for many.

Sadly racism in sport is nothing new and is still here today as recent examples illustrate. These include the abuse heaped on Marcus Rashford after Manchester United lost the Europa League final, the Glenn Kamara affair when the Rangers player was racially abused by his Slavia Prague opponent and the recent Mark Walters documentary detailing his dreadful experiences while a Rangers player.

Outwith sport, the killing of George Floyd just over a year ago in America provoked outrage and huge social unrest, helping promote the Black Lives Matter campaign and the silent tribute before sporting fixtures.

Without understating the issue’s seriousness today, things were notably worse for Johnson then, exacerbated by his flaunting his success, wealth and extravagant hedonistic lifestyle, including openly consorting with white women. He was not one for tugging of forelocks. White America was desperate to reclaim the title as the call went out for ‘The Great White Hope’ to appear, spearheaded by novelist Jack London, who wrote, “The White Man must be rescued.”

Retired champion Jim Jeffries, inactive for five years, was the chosen one to fight Johnson in Reno in 1910. Indicative of the vile racism permeating the bout was the music played beforehand by the band, ‘All C**ns Look Alike to Me’. Given this febrile atmosphere it was hardly surprising that Johnson’s convincing defeat of Jeffries should lead to nationwide rioting causing 20 deaths with over 250 seriously injured.

Unable to bring Johnson down in the ring, the white establishment had him prosecuted on a fabricated charge of crossing inter state lines with a white woman for immoral purposes. An all white jury convicted him, resulting in a sentence of a year’s imprisonment which he avoided then by absconding to Europe.

One of the more unusual episodes in Johnson’s career concerned his brief visit to Dundee on 13th October 1911 to become a member of the Freemasons. He was in Britain for a fight against ‘Bombardier’ Billy Wells in London on 3rd October but protests by authorities concerned for public order in addition to thinly veiled racist motivated objections led to its cancellation.

Later when appearing in a theatre revue in Newcastle, he met an agent named McLaglen who was going to Dundee to progress his own induction to the Freemasons. As Johnson had nurtured a long held ambition to become a Mason, he arranged to accompany McLaglen north to further this and together with wife Etta, the three caught the East Coast Express arriving in Dundee at 5.30 a.m., when they made their way to the Royal Hotel.

A wire in advance had alerted Lodge No.225, the Forfar and Kincardine Lodge in the city’s Meadow Street, of their plans for which a Lodge meeting had been convened for midday.

When it was realised the midday train was the only one that could convey them timeously to Newcastle for that evening’s show, the Lodge meeting was at short notice advanced to 10.30 a.m., resulting in many members being unable to attend.

Johnson’s ceremony, however, proceeded although during it a telegram was received from the Provincial Grand Lodge instructing it to be halted as objections against the boxer, apparently because of his colour, had been received. That was ignored and after an hour Johnson was confirmed as apprentice Mason.

He was absolutely delighted and afterwards proclaimed: ”I’m real proud and pleased to become a Mason. It’s the proudest day of my existence and has been one of my great ambitions,” as he was carried out shoulder high amid cheers from the crowd now present.

Promising to return for the next stage of the process in January, he said he would bring his fast 120HP Thomas motor car with him and “invite Sheriff Syme out for a spin to let him see there’s no danger with a good man like me at the wheel.”

By now with word spreading, it seemed as if everyone in Dundee wanted to see him and shake his hand as he fought his way good naturedly through crowds at Tay Bridge Station. According to one report “he was beaming with delight” and “his soft felt hat and ponderous shoulders” were always visible among the masses.

However his delight was to be short lived as subsequent disciplinary proceedings overseen by the Grand Lodge of Scotland held that the ceremony had been illegal as  necessary protocols had not been followed, rendering his ‘induction’ null and void. Although it was stated this did not reflect on the candidate’s suitability, the suspicion remained that his colour underlay the outcome.

He did return to Dundee but not till January 1916 when he appeared at the King’s Theatre for a week in a revue.

Another brief Scottish connection was his wrestling bout defeat in Paris in 1913 against Aberdonian Jimmy Esson, causing Johnson to announce he was returning to boxing!

In 1915 Jess Willard took his heavyweight crown from him after 26 rounds in Havana but Johnson was to remain a renowned celebrity for years.

His fatal accident occurred driving his Lincoln Zephyr fast while he was angry after being told to eat in a segregated room at a North Carolina diner. At his funeral, his third white wife, Irene, said: "I loved him because of his courage - he faced the world unafraid.”