James Jerome “Cracker” Johnson was born in 1877 in Savannah, Georgia. The name “cracker” was reserved for blacks who had white fathers, but for James Jerome, it was more than that. He established himself as a great entrepreneur and ran the black section of the town. One of his notable historical actions was when he bailed West Palm Beach city out of financial constraints.
“Cracker” Johnson influenced the business world throughout the county and America. He was an authority in gambling and bootlegging, among other business activities he began doing early in his life.
Personal Life and Death
Johnson married Ella in Quincy, Florida, with whom they bore two daughters, Marguerite and Edye. Johnson and his wife traveled widely, sometimes in the company of their friends. They often traveled to Los Angeles, Palm Beach, Chicago, New York, Chicago, and Detroit.
His wealth earned him a lavish life. He had a luxurious home compound with palm trees and an automatic water sprinkler system. Cracker Johnson’s house is still in West Palm Beach as of today!
Johnson invested in various fields throughout his life and made a lot of money. He shared part of his wealth with the community by issuing loans and doing philanthropic work.
Aged 68, Cracker Johnson was shot dead on July 2, 1946, by someone believed to have been a hired killer. His killers were allegedly a white mob who wanted to break his financial muscle on Palm Beach County.
Career and Business Interests
Cracker Johnson could not read and write due to his limited education. However, he amassed a lot of wealth as a teenager and during his twenties. He was an adept entrepreneur who developed projects that earned him a lot of money.
At the age of 16 years, Cracker Johnson secured a job as a cabin boy on a freighter. Here, he had an opportunity to travel around and visit other cities. After being a cabin boy, Johnson worked as a constable. He later moved to Florida and started a moonshine business in 1899.
Johnson would later establish gambling and pawn brokering business ventures and invest in Florida’s real estate. Part of Johnson’s other investments included the Florida Bar on Rosemary Avenue, West Palm Beach.
Role in Shaping America
Cracker Johnson was there before and during the Harlem Renaissance, a period between the 1920s and 1930s that defined the revival of African American literature, fashion, and politics. Therefore, he made a significant contribution to the welfare of blacks and everyone in general through his ability to amass wealth and gave back to society in different ways.
He made his most considerable fortune during the flapper days of the 1920s. In 1921, Johnson built a jail to house black inmates. His move to create this jail was informed by segregation laws that saw blacks jailed outside the city upon their arrest.
Johnson’s businesses were doing so well that they survived the stock market crash of 1929 and the economic depression that came afterward. As a result, he became a significant employer of many jobless individuals in the county.
Johnson provided money to supplement the strained city budget to buy equipment and tools for criminals for use during their incarceration. He also gave a loan of $50,000 to the city to meet other budgetary needs. Johnson’s efforts in different ways went a long way to help Americans, especially the blacks living in his town and beyond.
Cracker Johnson’s Entrepreneurial Prowess!
Entrepreneurship comes with many risks, and Cracker Johnson exemplifies this well. He was a great entrepreneur, philanthropist, and force to reckon on money matters. Cracker lived for many intertwined causes to help build a stable society for everyone. He took a lot of risks to realize his dreams and help others in their life endeavors.
The Black Male Archives
- Palm Beach County. History online. http://www.pbchistoryonline.org/page/james-jerome-cracker-johnson-johnson
- James Jerome, Cracker Johnson, Robin Hood King of West Palm Beach. https://marktaran.wordpress.com/2016/09/27/james-jerome-cracker-johnson-robin-hood-king-of-west-palm-beach/
The Black Male Archives