"Mr. President, pardon Papa Jack"
July 22, 2004 7:52 AM   Subscribe

"Mr. President, pardon Papa Jack" In 1908 a former Texas dockworker and inventor 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 (26 comments total)
Ken Burns' new four-hour film is about Johnson: premiere on PBS in January 2005.
Charlie Chaplin and Chuck Berry also were tried under the act, which was rewritten in 1986.
In court, the federal prosecutors argued that Jackson committed a "crime against nature" for engaging in sexual intercourse with a white woman. And after the verdict, the district attorney said that "it was [Johnson's] misfortune to be the foremost example of the evil in permitting the intermarriage of whites and blacks."
posted by matteo at 7:54 AM on July 22, 2004

prosecutors argued that Jackson

should read

"prosecutors argued that JACK JOHNSON.." etc

my bad
posted by matteo at 8:04 AM on July 22, 2004

A typically thorough and fascinating post. The only thing I would add is a mention of Miles Davis's wonderful Jack Johnson, far and away my favorite album from his "electric period"; it was intended as the soundtrack for a movie, and I recommend it as background music for these links. John Szwed says "A boxer himself, Davis had a feel for movement in the ring, and this recording overflows with the admiration he had for the grace, style, and confidence of fighters like Sugar Ray Robinson."
posted by languagehat at 9:42 AM on July 22, 2004

And to think, as recently as yesterday, people were decrying the epidemic of low quality posts in the Blue, and pining for the mythic days of yore. This is a superb, expertly constructed post. Thanks, Matteo!
posted by psmealey at 9:51 AM on July 22, 2004

i'm ashamed that i knew so little about jack johnson's story. thank you very much, matteo.
posted by lord_wolf at 10:10 AM on July 22, 2004

Funny, I just bought Mile's album, Jack Johnson, and I agree with languagehat, it is the best of his electric period. I haven't gotten through all of the links yet, but still, well done Matteo...!

Isn't there a movie about Johnson as well starring a young and studly James Earl Jones?
posted by sic at 10:40 AM on July 22, 2004

This is a great post. I own the Miles Davis record (yes, record!), but never knew the history. Thanks.
posted by gleuschk at 10:45 AM on July 22, 2004

Yeah, there it is: The Great White Hope (NY Times link).

James Earl Jones as "Jack Jefferson" a thinly veiled biography of Jack Johnson...
posted by sic at 10:45 AM on July 22, 2004

From the end of the record:

My name is Jack Johnson. I'm heavyweight champion of the world. I'm black - they never let me forget it. I'm black, all right - I'll never let them forget it.
posted by gottabefunky at 11:52 AM on July 22, 2004

Great links, thanks Matteo.

While Johnson was the first black heavyweight champion, the first black world boxing champion was fellow Maritimer George Dixon, who won the world bantamweight championchip in 1890. (born in halifax)
posted by Space Coyote at 12:35 PM on July 22, 2004

He shouldn't have fled the country after comitting a crime.

No pardon for Polanski either. Fry Mumia.
posted by hama7 at 2:15 PM on July 22, 2004

So hama7, Rosa Parks should have shut the fuck up and moved to the back of the bus, huh?
posted by lbergstr at 2:21 PM on July 22, 2004

I would feel a lot more outraged if the man had not spent more time beating on women than boxers. As such, I do not much care much about his memory or his pardon. I have visited his grave, which is in Chicago for some reason. I believe he is the only black man buried in that particular graveyard, but I am not sure about that. Interesting character regardless.
posted by thirteen at 2:38 PM on July 22, 2004

matteo, are you following me? Went to an upscale dinner last night. The room we were seated in had many nice pictures and portraits of Jack Johnson displayed, no joke.
posted by thomcatspike at 2:56 PM on July 22, 2004


Why do You Piss In Mathowie's Forum? He Don't Swim In Your Toilet...

take your pissing match with Mateo some where else.

on topic...

The district attorney at the time, Harry Parkin, called the conviction “the foremost example of the evil in permitting the intermarriage of whites and blacks,” which Burns’ petition said revealed the extreme prejudice at the time.

As a atheist i sometimes miss the concept of Hell. I picture it would be full to the brim of asshat's like Harry Parkin.
posted by Dreamghost at 3:11 PM on July 22, 2004

Excellent! I just learned about Johnson from a book I'm reading about Dada. While Johnson was in Europe, he fought dadaist Arthur Cravan, who has his own interesting history.
posted by mccreath at 4:06 PM on July 22, 2004

"Tribute to Jack Johnson" is indeed a great album, and my favorite soundtrack album though I've never seen the movie. John McLaughlin plays some kick ass guitar on that, making the rock and rollers of the time look pretty wimpy. Plus Sonny Sharrock plays on the album uncredited. Thanks for the links Matteo.
posted by Eekacat at 4:54 PM on July 22, 2004

I've never seen the movie either, but the description in Jack Chambers' classic biography Milestones: The Music And Times Of Miles Davis certainly makes it sound enticing:
Although the film, with unconventional cinematography and controversial subject matter, stood little chance of finding a mass audience, it is an unequivocal artistic success. Director William Cayton turned scant and often flawed photographic resources into a coherent and dramatic documentary, juxtaposing still photos, boxing footage, and newsreels to evoke the life and times of the first black heavyweight champion (1908-15) from the early years of the century until his death in 1946.
As for Sonny Sharrock, Chambers says:
Sharrock is listed [in the book's personnel listing for the album] as the second guitarist because he told Valerie Wilmer that he heard himself on the recordings; neither the personnel nor the recording dates were listed on the LP itself, and Sharrock was not included in the information that Columbia eventually gave out. "I am on the Jack Johnson album on the Yesternow side, near the end," Sharrock said. "I'm soloing using an echoplex. My solo was mixed down low under Miles." The second guitar is indeed heard momentarily late in Yesternow (at 22:30), but a second guitar is heard much more prominently near the end of Right Off... The second guitar in these instances may be Sharrock's, or an overdubbing of Laughlin's.
I don't have the new boxed set of every scrap of material that was recorded during the sessions, so I don't know if they've managed to clear up this point since Chambers wrote.
posted by languagehat at 5:27 PM on July 22, 2004

hama7, thank you.

Everytime I think I'm about to say "fuck it" and become a right-wing asshole, you say something that makes me change my mind.

Be proud.
posted by jonmc at 5:58 PM on July 22, 2004

damn matteo, I'm still working on your last post...
posted by shoepal at 6:11 PM on July 22, 2004

Wonderful post! Thanks matteo!!
posted by .kobayashi. at 6:23 PM on July 22, 2004

"He shouldn't have fled the country after comitting a crime."

Thanks for reminding what kind of scum we're up against.
The fight goes on.
posted by 2sheets at 7:00 PM on July 22, 2004

"He shouldn't have fled the country after comitting a crime."

I should have said: "comitting a felony."

Don't tell me you want to pardon Ken Lay too.
posted by hama7 at 9:18 AM on July 23, 2004

I should have said: "comitting a felony."

Nobody cares what you have to say, revised or no.
posted by Space Coyote at 4:50 PM on July 23, 2004

Beautifully constructed and well researched post! Nice work.
posted by dejah420 at 10:23 PM on July 23, 2004

a (fictional, of course) Jack Johnson also appears in this masterful story by the great Joe R. Lansdale, The Big Blow
posted by matteo at 1:48 PM on July 24, 2004

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