Time for Johnsonís Pardon
Galveston County Daily News, January 19, 2005
By Jeff Parish
It is long past time for Jack Johnson to get his pardon.
The BOI pugilist has stepped into the spotlight once
again thanks to the efforts of noted filmmaker Ken Burns, whose four-hour
documentary, ďUnforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson,Ē
aired this week on PBS.
The film chronicles Johnsonís rise to the top of the
boxing world, a position many argue he still maintains. Even Muhammad Ali has
said that Johnson was the best ever. Burnsí work also looks into the federal
governmentís apparent obsession in bringing down this noted American figure.
It was an obsession that led to a twisting of U.S. laws.
The U.S. Justice Department eventually prosecuted Johnson
under the Mann Act of 1910, which made it a federal offense to transport
prostitutes across state lines for purposes of debauchery. Testimony from a
jilted lover and former prostitute eventually earned Johnson a year in jail.
The boxer was found guilty by an all-white jury in 1913.
The actions he was taken to court for happened before the Mann Act was ever
passed, despite the fact that Article I section 9 of the Constitution
prohibits ex post facto laws, or those that criminalize activity
Johnson was flashy. He was flamboyant. He liked fast cars
and white women. He refused to bow to the pressures of a segregated society.
Was he perfect? Far from it. But neither was he a criminal.
Itís good to see this Galveston native finally getting
the credit he is due. But the criminal charge is still an undeserved stain on
his record. It is also a stain on this nationís record.
In October, Republican Sens. John McCain and Orrin Hatch
introduced a resolution to pardon the boxer for ďthe racially motivated 1913
conviction that diminished Johnsonís athletic, cultural and historic
significance and unduly tarnished his reputation.Ē
President Bush should grant that pardon. It will not
totally erase the stain years of prejudice has placed on our great nationís
history. But it is the right thing to do. And it will help show just how far
our society has come.
We canít change the past, but we can show that we have
learned from our mistakes and hope to build a better future.
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