Jack Johnson Should be Granted a Presidential Pardon

By James Stillerman – For the last two years, Arizona Senator and former Republican Nominee John McCain, New York Republican Representative, Peter King and Nevada Democratic Representative, Harry Reid have all tried unsuccessfully to persuade President Obama to pardon the great African American heavyweight pugilist, Jack “Galveston Giant” Johnson for his conviction under the Mann Act Law.

This request for Johnson to be pardoned appeared to gain traction this year as both houses in Congress, Senate and House of Representatives, passed a resolution strongly urging President Obama to remove Johnson`s criminal conviction. However, President Obama has yet to grant a presidential pardon for Johnson.

The brash and outspoken Johnson was convicted of the Mann Act Law in 1910 which made it illegal to transport women across state lines for immoral purpose. He was convicted of this crime because white individuals at that time discriminated against African Americans, especially ones that were dating white women and doing so in public. Johnson was also convicted to prevent him from continuing his reign as the heavyweight champion, which people in boxing despised the fact that an African American was ruling the heavyweight division at the time when the champion was always white. After being convicted of violating the Mann Act Law, Johnson fled the United States, however he returned nine months and one day later and served out his three year prison sentence in 1913, which got reduce to a year in jail.

Johnson was the first African American heavyweight champion of the world and became one of the first African American sports celebrities when he destroyed the heavyweight titleholder, Tommy Burns of Canada in the 14th round on December 12, 1908. He later fought James Jeffries nicknamed the “Great White Hope” since he was a former heavyweight champion who came out of retirement to defeat Johnson and have the heavyweight champion be white again. Nevertheless, Johnson was too much for the older and slower Jeffries and defeated him in the 15th round in the infamously “Battle of the Century” on July 4, 1910 in Reno, Nevada. Johnson eventually lost his title to Jess Willard in April 5, 1915 in the 26th round in Havana, Cuba.

He fought for over 30 years and finished with a great record of 55-11-7, 35KOs which included victorious over Hall of Famers, Sam Langford, Bob Fitzsimmons and Stanley Ketchel. He was inducted in the Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990, thanks to his great ring and defensive skills. Johnson could easily be considered a top fifty pound for pound boxer and one of top ten heavyweights of all time. His career most likely would have been even better if he was allowed the opportunity to fight the best the heavyweight division had to offer, as well as fight for the title earlier in his career, which did not happen because of racism.

Johnson died in North Carolina in 1946 at the age of 68 from a car accident. Now, it looks extremely unlikely that Johnson will be given a posthumous presidential pardon anytime soon. President Obama has refused to pardon him and he has not pardoned anyone during his presidency. Furthermore, pardons for individuals who are already dead are even rarer and former presidents; Bill Clinton and George Bush only issued one pardon a piece for a dead individual.

Hopefully, one day Johnson receives the justice he rightfully deserves and has those unjustly Mann Act Law convictions against him dropped.

Article posted on 10.09.2011

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