Len Johnson was a Black British Boxer from Manchester rising through the fairground Boxing Booths.
Johnson had an Illustrious career. He started his professional career in 1921although he had fought in boxing booths before turning professional.
He used the boxing booths for practise, and in particular the booths of Bill Moore. Moore was a very respected boxing booth proprietor. Len Johnson had nine fights for Moore and won seven of them in Manchester. Later he was to travel further afield to fight Jimmy cox of Wigan at Scottish Stadium,Govan.
Ex – Seaman Jimmy Cox and Len Johnson. The latter is a coloured gentleman of refined appearance, exceedingly clever in defence and attack and in the true sense of the word a boxer who delights in showing the finer points of the ‘Noble Art’. Johnson has beaten Pat McAllister, the Irish champion and hero of over 100 contests..
He continued his career over the next four years and continued to work in the boxing booths. Between 1927 and 1928 he was recognised as being one of the best boxers in the world in his division. However the boxing authorities refused to let coloured boxers compete for the Lonsdale belts in those days. This caused much anger in his home town of Manchester. One local newspaper recounts….
Johnson has won his way to the front of the middleweight division and yet is denied the opportunity of competing for the coveted Lonsdale Belt which would set the seal on his fame…All of which is strange in a country which has bestowed honours on men irrespective of race and creed, the sole consideration being outstanding merit in the particular spheres of life in which they have distinguished themselves.
Len became increasingly disillusioned with the Boxing Authorities, and set up his own boxing booth. He retired from the ring in 1933 after losing three of six fights. He then concentrated on his boxing booth. He appeared annually at the Nottingham Goose Fair, putting on 14 shows a day.
His show attracted many skilled boxers including Benny Lynch whom Len recommended to Elky Clarke, former boxer turned Journalist with Scottish paper ‘The Daily Record’. Len’s Hunch turned out to be right, Lynch went on to become a World Champion.
Len sold his Booth in 1940 and then left the Fairgounds. His standing was so great amongst his showland colleagues that he became a member of the Lancashire section of the Showmans Guild, (usually reserved only for those born into the community).
In 1945 Len became a Communist and between 1947 and 1962 stood for local elections six times in Manchester.
Never CountedOut:The story of Len Johnson,Manchester’s Black Boxing Hero and
Communist.-Micael Herbert (Manchester dropped aitches Press,1992)
A Fair Fight:An illustrated review of Boxing on british
Fairgrounds;-Vanessa Toulmin (Worlds Fair