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Len Johnson: The Black British Boxer Who Fought In and Out of the Ring

“Discover the inspiring story of Len Johnson, born on this day in 1902. From a gifted boxer to a fierce activist, his life was a testament to resilience.”

Black Wall St. MediaContributor
Len Johnson: The Black British Boxer Who Fought In and Out of the Ring

On this day, October 22, 1902, Len Johnson, a remarkable figure in Black British history, was born in Manchester. Johnson’s life was one of courage and resilience, both as a professional middleweight boxer and as a staunch communist activist.


Early Life and Ascent in Boxing

Len Johnson’s heritage was a reflection of the rich diversity of Britain. He was the son of a Sierra Leonian merchant seaman and a Mancunian Irish pinafore machinist. His early years were marked by a pursuit of excellence, and by the age of 18, he had already established himself as a professional middleweight boxer.

Boxing Stardom Denied

In the late 1920s, Johnson’s boxing prowess was undeniable, and newspapers began to suggest that he was on the path to becoming the British boxing champion. However, a deeply unfair rule by the British Boxing Board of Control thwarted his ambitions. This rule stipulated that British contestants must have two white parents, effectively denying Johnson the opportunity to fight for the title.


A Life Beyond Boxing: The Communist and Activist

The injustice of the boxing rule did not break Len Johnson’s spirit. After serving in the Second World War, he transitioned into a career as a long-distance lorry driver. More significantly, he became an active member of the Communist Party. Johnson’s commitment to justice and equality extended beyond party lines, and he was instrumental in founding the ‘New International Club’ in 1946. This club became a multiethnic, anti-racist haven created by working-class communists in Manchester’s Moss Side.

Breaking Barriers: Overturning the Colour Bar

In 1953, Len Johnson was at the forefront of a successful campaign to dismantle the color bar at a local pub, marking a significant victory in the ongoing fight against racial discrimination in Britain. His efforts in challenging racial prejudice in the community served as an example of his unwavering commitment to equality and justice.

A Life Remembered

Len Johnson’s later years were marked by financial hardship and declining health. He passed away on September 28, 1974, at Oldham General Hospital. His life was a testament to the enduring spirit of resilience in the face of adversity.

Len Johnson’s story, one of a talented boxer denied his rightful place due to racial prejudice, has become a symbol of the struggle for justice and equality in Black British history. His legacy continues to inspire and remind us of the importance of fighting against discrimination and injustice, both inside and outside the ring.

Black Wall St. MediaContributor

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