Day 5 of our posts for Black History Month tells the story of Len Johnson, the famous black boxer and life-long Communist.
He was born on 22nd October 1902 in Openshaw, Manchester. His father was William Benker Johnson, an African seaman, and his mother was a young woman from Manchester, Margaret Maher. After leaving the merchant navy his father worked for a time on boxing booths and, after a spell in engineering, Len followed his father into the profession. He fought professionally as a middle-weight from 1922 and 1933, and beat some of the best British and foreign fighters of the day. However Len was not allowed to fight for official British titles because the British Board of Boxing Control said that only white boxers could compete for titles. After he left the ring he toured his own boxing up and down the country. During the war Len worked in civil defence in Manchester and after the war worked as a bus driver and then lorry driver.
Johnson stood as a Communist candidate six times in local elections in Manchester and also acted for many years as an unofficial representative of the city’s black community becoming noted for his personally interventions in disputes involving racism. He spoke at Communist Party rallies in Manchester in the late 1950s and early 1960s and is still remembered by many today as a figure who spent a lifetime in a personal battle against injustice and racism. Len Johnson died on 28th September 1974, aged 71. *
See pictures of Len Johnson from our collection here: