While lobbyists like Fred Thompson and right-wing pundits spend their time being purposefully ignorant over the simple fact that perjury and obstruction of justice are crimes as they cry for a pardon for the felon Scooter Libby, one of the greatest athletes in the history of the United States remains terribly besmirched.
Jack Johnson was born in 1878 and as a man of his times, committed numerous cardinal sins: He beat the living hell out of white fighters, culminating in his 1908 destruction of the white Tommy Burns for the heavyweight championship. He married outside of his race. He was his own man.
In 1910, Johnson faced the undefeated Jim Jeffries, who came out of retirement to fulfill his role as the “Great White Hope” and bring heavyweight boxing glory back to the white race. It wasn’t even close. Johnson beat Jeffries so thoroughly and comprehensively that race riots broke out all over the United States.
Jack Johnson was the most hated man in white America. And in 1912, white America figured out how to finally beat him. Not being able to do it in the ring, charges were filed against Johnson for violating the Mann Act. Johnson’s crime? Driving his wife across state lines. Johnson was found guilty, and fled the country, living instead in Europe.
“It was clear to observers, though, that the real intent of the charges was to punish Johnson for engaging in romantic relationships with white women,” wrote Congressman Jesse L. Jackson, Jr, in his plea for a pardon for Johnson.
Johnson eventually lost his title in a controversial match against the towering, white, and inept Jess Willard in Cuba. He returned to the U.S. in 1920, to serve a year in prison. Johnson died in a car accident on June 10, 1946.
“The false charges against Jack Johnson reflected an injustice faced by many African-Americans during much of the twentieth century,” wrote Jackson. “While we cannot change history, and Johnson’s passing makes it impossible to ease his suffering, a pardon will reaffirm America’s dedication to fairness and justice for all.”
Johnson was known as the “Galveston Giant,” and there’s little doubt that President George W. Bush knows his plight well. There is also little doubt that President Bush has been deluged with people trying to convince him to pardon Libby. Instead of letting Libby off free, and thereby proving once and for all that he is an enemy of the current laws of the United States, Bush can instead strike down a great injustice and clear the name of a man convicted of racism.
Let Scooter Libby rot in jail. Pardon Jack Johnson.
For more on the great Jack Johnson, see Ken Burns’ PBS film, “Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson”