By Anthony McClean, Editor In Chief Emeritus NEW HAVEN (BASN) —...
Looking To Right A Serious Wrong
John McCain, the Republican senator who lost to Obama in November’s U.S. election and is Capitol Hill’s most ardent boxing aficianado, launched a campaign for a presidential pardon for Jack Johnson in Washington on Wednesday.
Johnson, who was the first black American heavyweight boxing champion, was convicted of the crime of transporting a white woman across state lines almost a century before Obama became the country’s first black president.
McCain and his supporters insist that Johnson was wronged in 1913 when he violated the segregationist Mann Act by having a consensual relationship with a white woman and crossing state lines with her — a conviction widely perceived today as racially motivated.
“The more I found out about Johnson, the more I thought a grave injustice was done,” said McCain, who was instrumental in the passing of the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act of 2000 which tightened laws on boxing and protecting boxers’ interests.
He added: “It’s just one of those things that you don’t want to quit until you see justice. We won’t quit until we will. And I believe that enough members, if you show them the merits of this issues, that we’ll get the kind of support we need.”
Obama was urged to issue the pardon after similar legislation offered in 2004 and last year failed to pass in both chambers of Congress.
Johnson, with a 79-8 win-loss record, was a fighting phenomenon, one of the first black celebrity sportsmen, and is often mentioned in the timeline of great heavyweight champions alongside the likes of Joe Louis and Ali.
McCain believes a pardon, particularly one from Obama, would carry special significance and symbolism. “It would be indicative of the distance we’ve come, and also indicative of the distance we still have to go,” he said.
Johnson, born in Galveston, Texas, on March 31 1878, to a former slave, was a great defensive fighter, who could box both off the front and back foot. The man who became known as the “Galveston Giant” won the world heavyweight title on Boxing Day 1908, after police in Australia stopped his 14-round match against the severely battered Canadian world champion, Tommy Burns.
As world champion, Johnson enjoyed his luxuries, including a fleet of cars, hand-tailored clothes and – taboo at the time – white confidantes. He also married three times, each time to a white woman.
The Long Island socialite Etta Duryea, who met Johnson at a car race in 1909, never heard from her father again after her 1911 marriage to Johnson. She committed suicide in 1911, reportedly miserable over rumours that Johnson was cavorting with other women.
Sentenced in 1913 to a year in prison, Johnson fled the U.S., with his next wife Lucille Cameron, returning seven years later, when he agreed to complete his jail term.
Johnson died in a car crash in North Carolina in 1946, aged 68.
Presidential posthumous pardons are rare, but in 1999, President Bill Clinton pardoned Lt. Henry O. Flipper, the Army’s first black commissioned officer, who was drummed out of the military in 1882 after white officers accused him of embezzling funds.