Jack Johnson pardon unlikely



Jack Johnson pardon banquets, including at least one in Reno, have long been planned for the centennial of the “Great White Hope” fight next month.

Johnson, the first black heavyweight champion, was convicted on a morals charge in 1913 for his relationship with a white woman. A resolution sponsored by U.S. Sen. John McCain and U.S. Rep. Peter King urging President Obama to grant a posthumous pardon was approved by Congress on July 29, 2009.

But there’s a hitch in the banquet plans—no pardon has ever come down from Obama.

In December, the U.S. Justice Department delivered a shocker by recommending against the pardon. In a letter to King, a New York Republican, Justice Department pardon attorney Ronald Rodgers said it is general policy not to even process posthumous pardon cases because pardon resources “are best dedicated to requests submitted by persons who can truly benefit from a grant of the request.”

Rodgers’ letter was apparently the Obama administration’s response to a letter King and McCain sent to Obama urging him to act on the pardon. Obama has not been heard from directly.

McCain and King, saying they were “sorely disappointed,” urged the president to reject “Mr. Rodgers’ assessment, concur with Congress and swiftly issue a posthumous pardon for Mr. Johnson.”

Johnson won the heavyweight title from Tommy Burns in Australia in 1908, prompting writer Jack London to call for a white hope to put the black man in his place, specifically calling for previous undefeated champ Jack Jeffries to come out of retirement for the purpose: “Jim Jeffries must emerge from his alfalfa farm and remove the golden smile from Johnson’s face. Jeff, it’s up to you.”

Johnson beat Jeffries in the storied “Great White Hope” fight in Reno on July 4, 1910. Whites reacted across the nation with riots and lynching rampages, and the U.S. Justice Department pursued Jackson for his involvement with white women until it won a conviction. Johnson died in 1946.

Nevada historian Phil Earl said, “I realize Obama’s got a lot on his plate right now.” He said there’s a pardon banquet planned in Reno for the first week of July. USA Boxing, the national governing body of amateur boxing in the United States, is a cosponsor of the gala.