Jack Johnson’s Long-overdue Pardon Rests with Obama

Published October 20, 2009

It appears that the only thing standing in the way of a long-awaited pardon for the first Black world heavyweight boxing champ is the OK from President Obama.

The White House still has not addressed whether the president will exonerate Jack Johnson, who was convicted in 1913 for having a White girlfriend.

It took less than two hours for an all-White jury to find him guilty of violating the Mann Act, which prohibited the transportation of women across state lines for "immoral" purposes.

Read and Comment: Congress Recommends Pardoning Boxing Champ

"Mr. Johnson was perhaps persecuted as an individual, but ... it was his misfortune to be the foremost example of the evil in permitting the intermarriage of Whites and Blacks," one of the prosecutors later said.

Ironically, two White national lawmakers, Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Rep. Peter King of New York, have led the campaign to exonerate Johnson, whose biggest crime –even bigger than having a White lover at a time when Black men were lynched for looking at a White woman – may have occurred three years earlier when he defeated White heavyweight champ Jim Jeffries.

Johnson beat Jeffries, who had come out of retirement for the fight, before a stunned, largely White crowd in Reno, Nev.

Race riots followed, and more than 20 people were killed; hundreds were injured. Most victims were Black.

On Friday, the two GOP boxing enthusiasts wrote to Obama, urging him to jump on board the Jack Johnson bandwagon. "It is our hope that you will be eager to agree to right this wrong and erase an act of racism that sent an American citizen to prison," they wrote.

Johnson served 10 months in prison on charges "brought forward clearly to keep him away from the boxing ring, where he continued to defeat his White opponents," said McCain and King said.

The House of Representatives on July 29 unanimously passed a resolution urging Obama to grant a pardon; the Senate passed a similar measure by a voice vote on June 24.

"The Jack Johnson case is an ignominious stain on our nation's history," McCain said on the Senate floor in the spring. "Rectifying this injustice is long overdue. [The resolution recognizes] the unjustness of what transpired, and sheds light on the achievements of an athlete who was forced into the shadows of bigotry and prejudice."

 

Written by BET.com Staff

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