"Mr. President, pardon Papa Jack"
In 1908 a former Texas dockworker
named Jack Johnson became the first African American boxer to ever win the world heavyweight title
. His victory sparked race riots
and prompted a search for a "great white hope"
(writer Jack London asked white fighters to "wipe that smirk off Johnson's face"
). But then Johnson defeated two "white hopes", one of whom was the legendary Jim Jeffries. In 1912, authorities went after Johnson
in court. His crime? Messin' with the white woman. Charges were brought against him for violating the Mann Act
, a federal law that made it a crime to transport a woman across state lines
for "immoral purposes." He married the woman, but he was sentenced to a year in prison anyway. Johnson fled the country, living in Europe as a fugitive for seven years, losing his title Havana in 1915
to a much younger white opponent after a 26-round fight
in 100-degree-plus heat (Johnson possibly threw the fight in exchange for leniency that he never received). He returned to the U.S. in 1920, surrendered and served a year. He never again was given a chance to reclaim the title
. When he died in poverty aged 68
in a car crash, not one boxer attended his funeral. Now a group of US Senators
(among them Hatch and McCain), prominent African Americans (Samuel L. Jackson, Jesse Jackson, many others) and boxing writers seek a posthumous Presidential pardon
for "Papa Jack". (more inside)
posted by matteo
on Jul 22, 2004 -