Arizona Senator John McCain and Long Island GOP Representative Peter King plan to reintroduce a congressional resolution urging the first African-American President in United States history to grant the original black Heavyweight Champion of the World a posthumous pardon for his racially motivated 1913 conviction for violation of the Mann Act.
King acknowledged he was surprised that Obama didn’t act during the last session of Congress, when the House and Senate passed the resolution.
The congressman said he still maintains hope that the pardon will be granted.
“With last year’s elections, there seems to be a clear intent by the president to try to be more bipartisan,” King said. “Everything is there to correct an historic wrong and also, in a small way but significant way, help to bring the country together now.”
The lawmakers’ request was inspired by Ken Burns’ documentary Unforgivable Blackness on boxing legend Jack Johnson.
“For more than thirteen years, Jack Johnson was the most famous and notorious African-American on earth,” said Burns of the pugilist who completed his career with 79 wins, in comparison to eight losses, and was inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame in 1954.
“This was a man who Muhammad Ali emulated,” Burns continued. “But Muhammad Ali did his fighting in a decade dedicated to civil rights. Jack Johnson did it in a decade in which more African Americans were lynched than at any other time.”
Johnson, an impenetrable defensive wizard in the ring who scholar Molefi Kete Asante nominated one of the 100 Greatest African Americans in history, was a bigoted Klansman’s most-mortifying nightmare.
The third child and first son of former slaves, the “Galveston Giant” carelessly dismissed conventions regarding the social and economic statuses of blacks in American society of his time.
He banged white women, drove expensive cars, and donned flamboyant clothing that would have made a present day pimp blush.
Despite obviously being the most dominant boxer in the world in his day, the Texas native was prevented from fighting for the world heavyweight championship.
In that era, the title was so respected and coveted that whites prohibited blacks from competing for the crown.
Realizing how “yellow” many whites were, Johnson stalked Canadian champion Tommy Burns around the globe, incessantly and maliciously mocking the Canuck when speaking to the press.
His calculated taunts eventually worked, and Burns agreed to scrap the “subhuman ape.”
On December 26, 1908, in front of over 20,000 spectators in Sydney, Australia, Johnson decimated his opponent, punishing Burns for fourteen rounds before the fuzz charged the ring and halted the massacre.
The referee then called the fight, and Johnson was awarded the heavyweight title via TKO.
In the aftermath of Johnson’s violent victory, racial animosity reached a fever pitch, and socialist Jack London spearheaded the search for a “Great White Hope” who could defeat the black titlist and return the belt to the “superior” Caucasian race.
In 1910, formerly undefeated heavyweight champion James J. Jeffries came out of retirement and, despite intentionally sidestepping Johnson when active, said “I am going into this fight for the sole purpose of proving that a white man is better than a Negro.”
As loud chants of “kill the nigger” reverberated through the entirely honky crowd, Johnson beat Jeffries like he was Nathan Bedford Forrest. Then, Jeffries flunkies started waving the “white flag.”
The outcome of the “Fight of the Century,” which earned Johnson $225,000, triggered race riots across the United States.
Coming to the apparent realization that no man, not black, white, or maroon, could take Johnson in a fair donnybrook, racist authority figures fingered Johnson for being in alleged violation of the Mann Act by “transporting women across state lines for immoral purposes.”
After going on the lam for a year in Mexico to avoid an unfair prosecution, Johnson returned to the U.S. and surrendered to Federal agents to face the bogus, race-fueled charge.
Johnson, an Andy Dufresne-like character who modified a wrench and patented the improvements he made while incarcerated, was hauled off to the United States Penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas to serve his undeserved one-year sentence behind bars.
Upon being released from the pen, Johnson attempted to jumpstart his suspended boxing career.
Unfortunately, he had lost some of his famed speed and timing when he was an inmate in the Sunflower State and was unable to recapture the brilliance that made him a pugilistic icon.
King rightly contends that Johnson was unjustly persecuted because of his race. The politician also believes that black Americans were robbed of a hero and an athletic marvel because of the deplorable sentence the courts imposed.
“At the time, the heavyweight champion of the world was the leading figure in sports,” said King. “Unfortunately for Jack Johnson, he was not allowed to have the luxury of enjoying his prominence, of enjoying the fact that he was the greatest athlete in the country.”
McCain, who lost the historic 2008 presidential election to now-Commander in Chief Barack Obama, predicted that his former foe would pardon the legend that once fought while a ringside band played “All Coons Look Alike to Me.”
“It will be an expression, in some ways, that we have come a long way” said the Vietnam War hero and boxer in yesteryear.
Jack Johnson was a tremendous warrior who faced unimaginable obstacles to become one of the supreme champions in boxing history.
It is time “to correct an historic wrong,” prove “we have come a long way,” and scratch Johnson’s unethical and bigoted conviction.