Saturday, May 25, 2024

Trump Pardons Late Boxing Champ Jack Johnson + Why Obama Didn’t

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jack johnson
*After talking about it back in April, President Donald Trump has posthumously granted a pardon for boxing’s first black heavyweight champion. Trump’s action comes more than 100 years after the late Jack Johnson was convicted by all-white jury of accompanying a white woman across state lines.

Trump had said he was considering a pardon in April, when he announced on Twitter that the actor and boxing enthusiast Sylvester Stallone, a friend of his, had called to bring Johnson’s story to his attention.

“His trials and tribulations were great, his life complex and controversial,” Trump wrote from his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida. “Others have looked at this over the years, most thought it would be done, but yes, I am considering a Full Pardon!”

Johnson is a legendary figure in boxing and crossed over into popular culture decades ago with biographies, dramas and documentaries following the civil rights era.

Most famously, his story was fictionalized for the play “The Great White Hope,” starring James Earl Jones, which won the Pulitzer Prize for drama and the Tony Award for best play in 1969. A film version with Jones was released in 1970. More recently, the documentary “Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson,” directed by Ken Burns, was aired on PBS in 2004.

Johnson was convicted in 1913 for violating the Mann Act, which made it illegal to transport women across state lines for “immoral” purposes. He died in 1946 at the age of 68.

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Jack Johnson & Jim Flynn (1912)
Jack Johnson & Jim Flynn (1912)

But other that Stallone and even Senator John McCain urging him to do so, why is Trump doing it and doing it now? That’s the question. For the answer, check out this item from The Guardian:

And why a pardon for Johnson now? Perhaps wisely, Barack Obama took a second pass in 2015 (the first was in 2009) when Congress approved a bill which included a resolution to pardon Johnson. As Jesse Washington noted, “Exonerating Johnson would have opened Obama up to racial repercussions unique to the first black president … Obama was focused on clemency for living victims of mass incarceration policies, which disproportionately affect the black community.” If Obama had pardoned Johnson, you can bet Fox News would have revived the real Johnson and screamed bloody murder.

So why has Trump decided to be Johnson’s savior? There is perhaps a feeling that Trump would use a pardon to score points over Obama. Washington feels that “a pardon would provide Trump with an opportunity to do something, albeit symbolic, about racial injustice. Trump’s Justice Department is reviving the ‘tough on crime’ policies that created the racially biased disaster of mass incarceration – the exact catastrophe that Obama tried to mitigate with both policy and his huge number of commuted sentences.”
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So should Johnson be pardoned? After all, the Mann Act rap on Johnson never had much credence. Gerald Early, chairman of Black American Studies at Washington University in St Louis and editor of, among other books, The Muhammad Ali Reader, says: “I think it is fine to pardon Johnson. It was obviously a racially motivated prosecution that was done under a very poorly conceived piece of legislation. But there were other questionable or debatable prosecutions under the act that should be looked into as well, Chuck Berry’s for instance. In as much the law is an example of federal overreach and has clearly not done well what it was purported to be trying to do – namely, protect women from being prostituted – probably many who were imprisoned under the act should be pardoned.”

You can MORE of this story at The Guardian.

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