Saturday, August 1, 2009

Pardon near for boxing great Jack Johnson

This past week Congress took a big step in correcting a lingering wrong - a pardon for the first black man to hold the Heavyweight Championship in boxing - the Galveston Giant, Jack Johnson.

Jack Johnson won the heavyweight title from Tommy Burns in 1908. He defended the title against the "Great White Hope" Jim Jeffries in the "Fight of the Century" in Reno, Nevada in 1910. Johnson won when his opponent failed to answer the bell for the 15th round. Afterwards, Jeffries said "I couldn't have hit him. No, I couldn't have reached him in a thousand years."

Johnson ran afoul of the law when, in 1912, he took his white secretary/girlfriend across state lines. Johnson was charged with violating the Mann Act. Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis (who later suspended Shoeless Joe Jackson and his "Black Sox" teammates for throwing the World Series), found that Johnson took her secretary across state lines for "immoral purposes." Johnson was convicted and sentenced to a year and a day in prison. After living on the lam in Europe for several years, Johnson eventually returned to the States and served his sentence.

The resolution will now make its way to President Obama who has the opportunity to restore Jack Johnson's name.