Jack Johnson to Receive Pardon
on October 1, 2008 by Administrator
The US House of Representatives has petitioned President George W. Bush to grant legendary boxer, Jack Johnson, a posthumous pardon for racially motivated convictions held against him for almost eighty years.
The “Galveston Giant” was born in Texas in 1878 and is widely regarded as one of the most influential black sportsmen on Earth. He became the first black heavyweight boxing champion in 1908, beating Canadian Tommy Burns over fourteen rounds in Sydney, Australia. The fight was eventually stopped by the police. Johnson went on to beat six more challengers in 1909 alone, proving himself worthy of the sport’s most coveted title. The white community was incensed and the search for a ‘Great White Hope’ who could defeat Johnson was stepped up.
In 1910, the Galveston Giant defeated James Jeffries in a tense battle at a specially constructed arena in Reno, Nevada. Johnson was eventually proclaimed the winner by default, despite overwhelming animosity from the all-white crowd. The victory was seen as an affront to the sensibilities of the white community and race-riots erupted all over the United States. Johnson became a cultural icon almost overnight. His relentless fight to be recognised as a free man characterised the struggle of repressed black people all over the country.
Unfortunately, Jack Johnson was prosecuted for the transport of white women across state lines in 1913. The offence was deemed to be in contravention of established slave trafficking regulations and rules put in place to combat prostitution and lewd behaviour (commonly known as the Mann Act of 1910). Johnson handed himself over to the authorities in 1920 after spending seven years in France. He received a sentence of a year and a day in prison. Seventy-five years later, the conviction still stands.
US Congress representative, Peter King, told the BBC that Johnson was convicted on flimsy, or absent, evidence to humiliate him for standing up to his oppressors and for cavorting with white women: “He was a victim of the times. We need to recognise him for his groundbreaking contribution to the sport of boxing.” Johnson was killed in a car crash in 1946 but his boxing career has inspired many a young pugilist to aim for the stars. Muhammad Ali named him as one of the greatest boxers that the world has ever seen.
The resolution must pass through the senate before it reaches George W. Bush. Presidential candidate and Senior Senator of Arizona, John McCain, has also recommended that Jack Johnson be pardoned and is expected to forward a companion resolution to the senate. Ken Burns, the creator of a recent documentary about the Galveston Giant, had this to say about the first black heavyweight champion of the world: “he was swimming upstream against the tide of the universe and getting away with it. I think that’s an incredibly admirable and incredibly American thing. To me, he’s an utterly American hero.”
Jack Johnson paved the way for today’s black sport stars by proving that perseverance in the face of adversity is the only way to silence the cynics and be recognised as a true champion of humanity.
Written by Chris Illingworth