Jack Johnson Presidential Pardon | Senators McCain and Reid Seek to Revise HistoryWritten by Mark Weber
Johnson, who died in 1946, became the first African American heavyweight champion when he defeated Canadian Tommy Burns in 1908.
Considered an all-time great, Johnson is one of the most controversial characters in American history.
After winning the championship, Johnson faced tremendous scrutiny, and racial animosity grew strong among the American public.
To add insult to injury, Johnson's flashy, flamboyant, in-your-face persona did little to pacify his racist detractors.
Moreover, at a time when interracial relationships were unheard of, Johnson had three white wives (at different times), only adding to the public's disdain towards him.
One famous tale often told of Johnson was the time he was pulled over for speeding. The officer charged him $50 for the crime, so Johnson gave him $100. When the officer gave him his change, Johnson responded,"Keep it, I'm coming back this way."
And you thought Adrian Broner was cocky?
Because of his status as heavyweight champion, involvement with white females and his brash, unrepentant demeanor, some civil rights activists refused to support the legendary boxer.
The vast majority of White America disapproved of Johnson and his actions and hoped that a white man would soon bring an end to the boastful champion's reign.
Eager for a "Great White Hope", the media urged former undefeated heavyweight champion Jim Jeffries, a boxing legend in his own right, to come out of retirement to uphold the dignity of White America and slew the great Johnson.
Considered the strongest man in the world at the time, Jeffries was also known for his unrelenting stamina and destructive power. He was the original "Great White Hope" and the most feared, most popular, most adored fighter in the world.
An Adonis no more, the 35 year old Jeffries threw himself into intense training and, within a year, dropped over 100 lbs.
Former Heavyweight Champion Jim Jeffries
By the end of training, Jeffries looked every bit the Herculean fighter he once was.
The American public went into such a frenzy over his physique, he was actually favored to beat the younger, quicker, technically-superior Jack Johnson.
But when Jack Johnson faced Jim Jeffries on July 4, 1910 in a battle of champions, the event was little more than a glorified sparring session.
Johnson unleashed a massive beating on his foe, even taunting him in the process before knocking out the comebacking former champion in Round 15.
Humbled, the former champion said afterwards:
"I could never have whipped Johnson at my best. I couldn't have hit him. No, I couldn't have reached him in 1,000 years."
Johnson had 'cleaned house' and the results of the fight sparked outrage, as riots took place all across the United States, including New York, Philadelphia and Houston.
Hundreds were injured, and a few were killed.
U.S. Senator and hardcore boxing fan John McCain (R), AZ leads the way in an effort to rewrite history
Without a suitable opponent to unseat the flashy but brilliant Johnson inside the ring, the US Government seemingly sought to stop him outside it.
On April 12, 1912 Johnson was arrested for taking his girlfriend, Lucille Cameron, across state lines for immoral purposes - a violation of something called The Mann Act, a law that had passed two years prior.
The law was intended to curtail prostitution, "immorality", and human trafficking; However, its ambiguous language of "immorality" allowed selective prosecutions for many years, and was used to criminalize forms of "consensual" sexual intimacy.
The aledged prostitute, Lucille Cameron, insisted she was in a romantic relationship with Johnson and refused to cooperate and the case initially fell apart.
Johnson would later marry Cameron, clear evidence she was not a prostitute and the two had, in fact, engaged in a consensual romantic relationship.
The case against Johnson had failed but the legal war against the champ was not over.
After the case, Belle Schreiber, a prostitute who had claimed she had a relationship with Johnson in 1909-1910, testified against him. A jury found Johnson guilty and he was sentenced to one year in prison for violation of the Mann Act.
Never to be silenced, Johnson jumped bail and fled with his wife, Cameron, to Europe for refuge in June 1913.
During his exile, Johnson would defend his title three more times – twice and Paris and once in Buenos Aires – before losing to Jess Willard in Havana, Cuba in April 1915.
Five years later, Johnson returned to the United States, was seized and served his one year sentence.
The great Jack Johnson would return to the ring and experience moderate success before retiring in 1931 for good.
Jack Johnson allegedly fought exhibitions in his late 50s and early 60s
In 1948, Johnson died at the age of 68 from injuries he suffered in a car crash.
It seemed he had finally lost the good fight.
In recent years, politicians have attempted to pass a bill to pardon the champion of his racially-motivated, trumped-up violation.
Recently, Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson joined Senators Harry Reid and John McCain as well as filmmaker Ken Burns in an effort to attain a presidential pardon from the U.S. President Barack Obama.
"A full pardon would not only shed light on the achievements of an athlete who was forced into the shadows of bigotry and prejudice, but also allow future generations to grasp fully what Jack Johnson accomplished against great odds, " stated Senator John McCain."
Interesting Jackson Johnson Facts:
- Aside from being the first African American Heayweight Champion, Jack's defensive tactics revolutionized boxing.
- Moreover, he held three patents, including U.S. patent #1,413,121, for an improved wrench and was fluent in English, French and Spanish.
Would you like to join the fight to pardon Jack Johnson? If so, visit here and sign the petition.
Born and raised in Philadelphia, I currently reside in South Jersey which is about 20 minutes away from Philly.
I'm a Communications major at Gloucester County College and lifelong fan of several sports, including Boxing, Mixed Martial Arts and Kickboxing.
I fell in love with Boxing during the era of the little giants... Erik Morales, Marco Antonio Barrera, Manny Pacquiao, and Juan Manuel Marquez.