John McCain again fights to Pardon Jack Johnson

April 1, 2009 by  

I am a long-time and firm believer that the U.S. must pardon Jack Johnson, the first Black heavyweight champion who was historically screwed by a fearful and racist U.S. government. Johnson - who by no means was a saint - was first chased out of the country, then finally jailed under the Mann Act. His crime? He transported a white woman over state lines.

But, as before, the controversial and brilliant boxer has a champion of his own in John McCain:

Sen. John McCain wants a presidential pardon for Jack Johnson, who became the nation’s first black heavyweight boxing champion 100 years before Barack Obama became its first black president.

McCain feels Johnson was wronged by a 1913 conviction of violating the Mann Act by having a consensual relationship with a white woman — a conviction widely seen as racially motivated.

“I’ve been a very big fight fan, I was a mediocre boxer myself,” McCain, R-Ariz., said in a telephone interview. “I had admired Jack Johnson’s prowess in the ring. And the more I found out about him, the more I thought a grave injustice was done.”

On Wednesday, McCain will join Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., filmmaker Ken Burns and Johnson’s great niece, Linda Haywood, at a Capitol Hill news conference to unveil a resolution urging a presidential pardon for Johnson. Similar legislation offered in 2004 and last year failed to pass both chambers of Congress.

King, a recreational boxer, said a pardon would “remove a cloud that’s been over the American sporting scene ever since (Johnson) was convicted on these trumped-up charges.”

“I think the moment is now,” King said.

The moment was actually a long time ago, but this is good news nonetheless. And I agree with McCain that Barack Obama - the first Black U.S. President - is the man to finally take the stain from Johnson’s name.

Both McCain and King said a pardon, particularly one from Obama, would carry important symbolism.

“It would be indicative of the distance we’ve come, and also indicative of the distance we still have to go,” McCain said.

For a while there, I thought that famed “Texan” George W. Bush would be the man to pardon Johnson - who was born in Galveston. But despite honoring Johnson in the past, Bush had no interest in justice when he had the opportunity.

Burns helped form the Committee to Pardon Jack Johnson, which filed a petition with the Justice Department in 2004 that was never acted on. Burns said he spoke about the petition a couple of times with Bush, who as governor of Johnson’s home state of Texas proclaimed Johnson’s birthday as “Jack Johnson Day” for five straight years.

Bush gave Burns a phone number which led to adviser Karl Rove, Burns said, but Rove told him a pardon “ain’t gonna fly.”

Rove doesn’t recall any such conversation with Burns, his spokeswoman Sheena Tahilramani said, and “if he had been approached, he wouldn’t have offered an opinion.”

It is truly inconceivable to me that, almost a century later, no one has yet had the political will to correct a national humiliation. McCain has the political pull to make sure it happens if he follows through. Pardon Jack Johnson.


(To learn about Johnson, I strongly advise viewing Ken Burns’ documentary, “Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson”)


2 Responses to “John McCain again fights to Pardon Jack Johnson”

  1. dgun on April 1st, 2009 6:39 pm

    That was a great documentary.

  2. A Pardon for Jack Johnson would benefit us all « Equal Rights For All « William K. Wolfrum Chronicles on February 8th, 2010 4:15 am

    [...] is long past time to pardon Jack Johnson. The posthumous pardon has bi-partisan support, as Sen. John McCain and Rep. Peter King - Republicans both - are among those that have championed his [...]

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