Chance to Rewrite History
Washington Times (Owned by the Unification Church),
February 19, 2005
By Alvin Williams
As the U.S. marks Black History Month, President Bush has
a chance to rewrite a dark chapter in the life of one African-American
heroóboxing champion Jack Johnson.
While not always touted among others instrumental in the
quest for equality for African-Americans, Johnsonís achievements in the ring
and to a smaller extent his hubris outside it, merit acclaim for contributing
greatly to demolishing stereotypes that were the foundation of discrimination.
The only challenge too formidable for Johnson was a racially tinged judicial
system intent on finding a way to limit his freedom by misapplying a legal
Jack Johnson was a freedom fighter. His uncanny boxing
ability refuted the falsely held notion at the time that African-Americans
were mentally and physically inferior and thereby not entitled to the same
rights and privileges as other Americans. Johnson was equally adept at dealing
with jabs from the media, and the public who showered him with racial slurs
and other abuse at every opportunity.
Johnson was not deterred by any of circumstances in his
quest to hold the ultimate sports title of that time, the world heavyweight
boxing championship. For decades before he won the title Jack Johnson, widely
recognized as the most skilled fighter of the time, was denied a chance to
contend for the title because he was African-American. The heavyweight title
held mythical implications as a symbol of physical and mental prowess and
there was a resounding fear that if a Johnson victory would upset the balance
of race relations in America and produce a wider call for equality.
However, Johnson believed that, as an American, he should
be free compete for the top of his profession. Johnsonís determination to
overcome racism and stereotypes made him a symbol among African-Americans who
shared his desire for equality.
With vigor and courage, Jack Johnson entered the ring on
July Fourth, 1910, and defeated Jim Jeffries to become the first
African-American to hold boxingís heavyweight title.
It is fitting this triumph came on Independence Day
because when word traveled Johnson had won, a great ripple of euphoria and joy
permeated the hearts of African-Americans nationwide. Johnson in one fell
swoop not only knocked out his white opponent but symbolically dealt a blow to
stereotypes that obstructed true equality for all Americans.
On the basis of this historic achievement, Johnsonís
legacy should have been cemented among the great freedom fighters in American
history. However, a miscarriage of justice sentenced Johnson to prison while
alive, and to a certain shroud of posthumous infamy.
As Johnson secured equality in the ring, he also sought a
freedom outside of the ring which was evidenced in his interracial
marriagesówhich angered those already smoldering as a result of Johnsonís
In 1913, Johnson was convicted on violating the Mann Act,
a law that banned the interstate transport of white women for purposes of
prostitution and debauchery. However, Johnson was guilty of neither offense
banned by Mann Act as the women in question were involved in consensual
relationships with him, which the Mann Act did not sanction. Nevertheless, he
was convicted and sentenced to a year in a federal prison.
This conviction cast a shadow on Johnsonís legacy as a
forerunner in the struggle for equality who sought the freedoms afforded other
Americans in a time when they were denied African-Americans. The conviction
also overshadowed Johnsonís legacy as an athlete above measure, an
entrepreneur, and an unlikely symbol of the struggle for freedom in America.
This is why a wide-ranging coalition of politicians,
activists, celebrities, boxers and others are calling for President Bush to
issue a presidential pardon expunging the charges from Johnsonís record. In
doing so, he would follow the lead of the Texas State Senate that in 2001
passed a resolution declaring Johnsonís prosecution was due to a
ďcontrived chargeĒ and the political and racial tensions of his time.
A pardon from President Bush would allow Johnsonís
legacy to be intact as someone who sought and worked diligently for the
American dream. One doesnít often have a chance to rewrite history. Letís
hope Mr. Bush takes this opportunity to do so, a fitting tribute to a true
Alvin Williams is president and chief executive officer
of Black Americaís Political Action Committee (BAMPAC).
[Home] [Editorials] [USA]