He was hated by many white Americans, especially after retaining his title by defeating white boxer Jim Jeffries in the 1910 “Fight of the Century.” Johnson’s victory infuriated whites, sparking deadly race riots across the country.
Three years later, Johnson was convicted of violating the Mann Act.
Authorities first targeted his relationship with Lucille Cameron, who later became his wife. She refused to cooperate. They then turned to Johnson’s former mistress, a prostitute named Belle Schreiber, to testify that Johnson had paid her train fare from Pittsburgh to Chicago, for immoral purposes. An all-white jury convicted Johnson in 1913, and he skipped bail and fled the country. But in 1920, Johnson agreed to return and serve his sentence.