Last edited: January 23, 2005

Time for Johnsonís Pardon

The 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 retroactively.

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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