A pardon for Jack Johnson

Once again, a pardon for boxer Jack Johnson may be in the pipeline.

Congress has approved legislation urging President Obama to grant a posthumous pardon for Johnson, who was convicted of transporting women over state lines for immoral purposes under an abuse of the Mann Act.

That act was approved by Congress nine days before Johnson successfully defended his heavyweight championship in Reno against the latest “great white hope,” former champ James Jeffries, on July 4, 1910—an event that has been called the fight of the century.

The Mann Act was also known as the White-Slave Traffic Act, was designed to prevent transport of women for purposes of prostitution. Johnson’s affluent lifestyle of fast cars, white women and triumph over white champions so offended the white community that riots broke out across the nation after the Reno fight, and again after release of films of the Reno fight, resulting in lynching sprees of blacks by whites.

Federal prosecutors brought charges that were never envisioned under the Mann Act against Johnson because of his travel with consenting companions. They won in the courtroom the victory white fighters had been unable to win. Johnson was convicted and left the country to avoid being imprisoned. Like Muhammad Ali, he lost his best fighting years at the hands of whites (“The great black hope,” RN&R, Aug. 6, 2009).

The latest resolution from Congress, sponsored by Sens. John McCain and Harry Reid, was buried inside a reauthorization of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act. It can be read here: http://tinyurl.com/pz5oh57.

New York Times sportswriter William Rhoden noted that presidents Clinton and Bush have ignored previous such resolutions. So has President Obama, though Rhoden speculated that Obama may be saving the pardon for one of his last acts in office.

“Why is the United States still afraid of Jack Johnson?” Rhoden asked.