Skip to comments.BOXER JACK JOHNSON PRESEDENTIAL PARDON
Posted on 10/07/2004 3:55:55 PM PDT by Nasty McPhilthy
October 7, 2004 (Washington, D.C.) A committee of political and civil rights leaders, boxing experts and artists, including documentary filmmaker Ken Burns ( The Civil War, Baseball, Jazz ) are collectively cheering this week's Senate Resolution regarding the efforts to clear the name of Jack Johnson, the first African-American heavyweight boxing champion. The knockout punch of a full posthumous presidential pardon may be near.
The Johnson pardon movement was initiated this summer by Burns, who pursued the cause on Capitol Hill after extensively researching the life of Jack Johnson for his film, " Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson ," which airs on PBS in January. The committee's counsel, John Siegal of the law firm Proskauer Rose LLP, prepared the petition, which was originally filed with the U.S Department of Justice on July 13, 2004 .
On behalf of the pardon committee and everyone associated with this movement for justice, we praise Senator McCain and applaud the unanimous support of the Senate, said Burns after the resolution passed. Now, future generations will have a chance to learn about and appreciate Johnson's important contributions to human and racial rights and recognize his place in history with no unjust labels attached.
To raise awareness and help enact change, Burns teamed with an esteemed committee of political and civil rights leaders, boxing experts and artists including Senators John McCain, Edward Kennedy and Orrin Hatch, Representatives Charlie Rangel (New York), Eddie Bernice Johnson (Texas) and Jesse Jackson, Jr. (Illinois), former NYC Mayor David Dinkins, boxers Sugar Ray Leonard, Bernard Hopkins, John Ruiz, and Vernon Forrest, composer and musician Wynton Marsalis, historian and writer Henry Louis Gates, Jr., boxing writer Bert Sugar, rap artist and radio personality Chuck D, actor Samuel L. Jackson, authors and columnists Pete Hamill and Jack Newfield, Jack Johnson biographers Geoff Ward and Randy Roberts, New York Law School Professor Denise Morgan and boxing and sports experts Kelly Swanson, Norman Horton, Len Elmore, and Louis DiBella.
Johnson's conviction in 1913 of violating a vice law was widely regarded, even by the prosecuting attorney, as a punishment for Johnson's romantic relationships with white women. The investigation and prosecution followed Johnson's defeat of Jim Jeffries, a former champion dubbed the great white hope, in a July 4, 1910 championship fight that was America 's first high-profile interracial athletic encounter.
The petition documents in detail how the decision to indict Jack Johnson and the conviction itself were racially motivated. Among the findings are:
The Mann Act, passed in 1910, outlawed the transportation of women in interstate or foreign commerce for the purpose of prostitution, debauchery, or for any other immoral purpose. Johnson's trial, however, marked the first time that the Mann Act was invoked to invade the personal privacy of two consenting adults and criminalize their consensual sexual behavior.
In 1912, after the U.S. government began an investigation of Johnson, a Justice Department official sent a memo to the Attorney General stating, From the facts set forth in [a] telegram [received from a Special Agent in Chicago], and those given in the current newspapers, I do not believe that this is a proper case for the Federal Authorities to undertake. After one failed attempt by the Bureau of Investigation to bring charges against Johnson under the Mann Act, the Department of Justice combed through Johnson's past relationships until they found a white woman who was willing to testify against him.
Government investigators received an anonymous letter that identified Belle Schreiber, one of Johnson former white lovers, as a likely witness to testify against him. The letter reads, I sincerely trust that I have made this effort as plain to you as I possibly could under the circumstances, and that you shall be able to gather sufficient evidence from the above named persons to enable you to send this nigger to jail for the balance of his life.
In its opening statement at trial, the Government promised to establish not only the payments to transport Schreiber for the purpose of engaging in sexual intercourse, but also that Johnson engaged in debauchery, including crime against nature. After a guilty verdict was passed, District Attorney Harry Parkin said, This Negro, in the eyes of many, has been persecuted. Perhaps as an individual he was. But it was his misfortune to be the foremost example of the evil in permitting the intermarriage of whites and blacks.
Parkin and the sentencing judge admitted that Johnson was convicted to send a message to African American men by convicting one of the best known men of his race.
On the basis of these and other facts documented in the petition, the Committee asks the President to pardon Johnson because his conviction was the result solely of contrived charges reflecting attitudes and mores that America has long since outgrown.
Johnson became a lightning rod for racial strife in America when he became the first African-American to win the heavyweight boxing title in 1908. His victories in the ring provoked nationwide race riots and spurred the search for the great white hope who could beat him. Johnson further enraged whites by traveling with, dating and marrying white women, many of whom were prostitutes.
Burns explained that as he and his team dug deeper into Johnson's life and the events surrounding his 1913 conviction for violating the Mann Act, the more it appeared that this case was, as Burns noted, racist from the beginning to the end and one of the greatest abuses of justice involving an American athlete that this country has ever seen.
Johnson fled the country following his conviction and lived in Europe as a fugitive from justice for seven years. He returned to the U.S. in 1920, surrendered to authorities and served a year in prison.
If granted, it would be only the second posthumous presidential pardon in U.S. history, the first being President Clinton's 1999 pardon of the former slave and first black army officer Henry O. Flipper.
A copy of the Petition and a fact sheet on the life and career of Jack Johnson are available. Interviews with Burns and committee members can be facilitated via the contacts listed above. Photographs and video are also available.
John Kerry's long lost relative?
From everything I've ever heard about this, Johnson truly was the victim of racism in these charges. I hope they give him a pardon. He was the original breaker of the color barrier . . . not Jackie Robinson.
Don't insult LT Flipper by comparing him to Kerry.
from what I read of jack johnson he seemed like a pretty interesting guy (then again I haven't read that much about jack johnson)
Clinton and his stupid precedents. This nonsense could go on forever. The dead are all innocent, they're certainly beyond the reach of law. Let this dumb idea die with Clinton.
Thought you'd be interested in this.
You connected the dots on the second post!
Some of these people truly were innocent though and just victims of a less-tolerant time. Why shouldn't the situation be rectified, if possible, to give dignity back to the convicted's family? It's not like it takes a lot of effort.
Bush should pardon him and get some decent press for once. I read up on Johnson at one point and he was a remarkable guy.
It's not like the guy died in prison (unless I read the article wrong). This is profoundly stupid. What's next? Overturning 70-year-old jaywalking convictions?
Of course they were.
Why shouldn't the situation be rectified, if possible, to give dignity back to the convicted's family?
OK, what if the guy is guilty? Some president gives a posthumous pardon under pressure from a convict's family and it's discovered later that the guy was guilty as sin and a monster. What then?
It's not like it takes a lot of effort.
You are exactly right. It takes nothing. It means nothing. It is an empty, useless gesture. It trivializes the awesome power of presidential pardons and I would much rather have the president overturn real injustice than give his stamp of approval to a family who is, apparently, not sufficiently convinced of their dead relative's innocence that they need an official imprimatur.
It's not stupid to Johnson's descendents. How would you like it if your grandfather was one of the most famous boxers ever. Part of his fame, however, wasn't because of his ability but because of some trumped-up conviction just because of his race. I have NO problems with them pardoning this "crime".
I would imagine Johnson is up in heaven wondering why a bunch of poverty pimps and jabba the hut lookalikes want to use his name. Heaven is the ultimate pardon and those democrats to include hatch are a bunch of morons. They are just doing feel good politics at the most. Johnson was guilty of no crime. Only the democrats created this law to hinder any person of color. I think the great Jack Johnson would not accept any help from these hypocrites. Maybe he would have knocked jesse's and jabba kennedy's running lights out for good. Bush/Cheney 2004
But it has become quite clear that Johnson was not a monster and that he was the clear vicim of racism.
Reagan posthumously pardoned Sacco & Vanzetti.
(If memory serves, there have been some few others. I don't have time to do a search just now. Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong.)
I agree that it's an easy plus. Harms no one and again reminds people that this President and his party are not the racists the haters paint us to be.
I await the list from you.
Nawww, no conflict of interest there.
I'm willing to grant an immediate pardon for Johnson for the instant arrest and incarceration of Mohammed Ali (Casus Clay), an unrepentant coward, and shameless draft dodger.
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