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Pardon For Boxing Champ's Race-Based Conviction?

Pardon For Boxing Champ's Race-Based Conviction?

The US House of Representatives is asking President Bush to issue a posthumous pardon of professional boxer, and one of the first celebrity athletes, Jack Johnson. When Jack Johnson became the first-ever black heavyweight boxing champion in 1908, many in the country went looking for "The Great White Hope" — a white boxer who could defeat Johnson.

In 1910, undefeated champion James J. Jeffries came out of retirement to fight Johnson, saying: "I am going into this fight for the sole purpose of proving that a white man is better than a Negro." Johnson won the fight, garnering the $225,000 prize, and race riots broke out across the country.

After trying to convict him for relations with a white woman who went on to become his wife, in 1920 a federal court convicted Johnson of violating the Mann Act, which prohibited transporting women across state lines for immoral purposes. He spent a year in a federal penitentiary.

The House resolution states: "He was a victim of the times and we need to set the record straight — clear his name — and recognize him for his groundbreaking contribution to the sport of boxing." If it passes the House, the Senate will vote on a similar resolution sponsored by John McCain.


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