Rep. King, McCain seek pardon for boxing great Jack Johnson
BY TOM BRUNE
April 2, 2009
WASHINGTON - The outspoken, handsome and daring boxer Jack Johnson paid a steep price for becoming the first black heavyweight world champion by knocking out a white opponent a century ago.
In 1913, a prosecutor using the Mann Act won a conviction of Johnson by arguing he had committed a shocking "crime against nature" - a black man having sex with a white woman he later married.
Wednesday, Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) announced they would seek to right that wrong - a trumped-up charge for racial reasons - by introducing a congressional resolution to encourage the president to posthumously pardon Johnson, who died in 1946.
King, a former boxer who still spars each week, called Johnson "a very unique heavyweight champion" and said he deserved a pardon as "a retroactive establishment of justice."
McCain and King are banking on President Barack Obama to issue the pardon that former President George W. Bush refused to grant. They offered the resolution in 2005 and last year. Only the House passed it.
The White House Wednesday had no comment.
McCain and King were joined at the announcement by Johnson's grandniece Linda Haywood and filmmaker Ken Burns, whose 2004 documentary "Unforgivable Blackness" inspired the pardon campaign.
University of Maryland politics professor Ron Walters called the resolution a "symbolic" and political gesture by McCain and King.
Johnson first won the title in 1908 by knocking out Canadian champion Tommy Burns in Australia. Two years later, Johnson knocked out Jim Jeffries, recruited as the "Great White Hope," touching off race riots, most led by whites.
In 1913, the fighter was convicted and given a 1-year sentence for violating the Mann Act, which outlawed taking white women across state lines for prostitution and "immoral purposes." He fled to Europe, lost his title in 1915, and returned after seven years and served his prison time.
"Unfortunately for Jack Johnson, he was not allowed to have the luxury to enjoy his prominence," King said. "And the African-American community was denied the opportunity of having one of their own be recognized as the greatest athlete in the country and the world at that time."
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