A resolution was approved by Congress on Wednesday that is urging to give a pardon to Jack Johnson for being wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for having romantic ties with a Caucasian woman. To school young thundercats out there that are unaware, Johnson was the first Black heavyweight boxing champion.
In 1913, Johnson was the victim as he was convicted of violating the Mann Act, an act that made it illegal to transport women across state boundary lines for immoral purposes. Upon conviction, Johnson fled the country for an unknown amount of time but made an agreement, years later, to return to the U.S. and serve a jail sentence that would last for 10 months.
The resolution has stated that Johnson, although his life has passed, should receive a pardon due to the fact that his reputation was stained by his imprisonment and was a clear case of being racially-driven. The Senate sponsor of the resolution was Sen. John McCain who was the opponent of Obama in the 2008 presidential campaign. The House sponsor was New York Republican Peter King.
Johnson gained support from boxers of this age as Rep. Jesse Jackson pointed out that Vernon Forrest, who is a former boxing champion that was recently killed from gunshot wounds, was rallying for Johnson’s case as he had taken part in a discussion with members of Congress years prior.
Filmmaker Ken Burns released a documentary in 2005, Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson. The film analyzed the case against the boxer and made the bold statement that the judge’s sentence was a means of sending a message to Black men that chose to dabble in the sugar bowl that is white women. Burns was also an aid in forming the committee that pardoned Johnson who filed a petition in 2004 that was never acted on by the Justice Department.
Johnson’s legacy began when police were forced to stop his match in Australia after punishing the current Canadian world champion, Tommy Burns, in a 14-round battle and gaining the title. The results of this match resulted in searching for a “Great White Hope” that would be able to topple this machine. Attempts were made two years later when he battled Jim Jeffries, a fighter Johnson himself has wanted to fight, but the result was the same as Johnson reigned victorious in “The Battle of the Century.”
After serving time in prison, he tried to make a return to the ring to re-capture his title, but he was unsuccessful. He would later die at age 68 from a car crash.