From The Grio — President Obama issued a second round of pardons this week. Those receiving them committed such offenses as selling alligator hides, peddling relatively small amounts of marijuana and meth, distributing equipment for unauthorized decryption of satellite cable, and for not paying a transfer tax on the sale of a firearm. The sentences the offenders got were for the most part as lightweight as their offenses and as non-descript as the offenders. But the name that was missing from the list of those Obama pardoned last December and the current crop is that of the first black heavyweight champion boxer Jack Johnson.
That’s the name that should head the list of Obama pardons. The reasons for pardoning Johnson have been oft stated. They were stated again by Republican Sen. John McCain and House Rep. Peter King in announcing that they are reintroducing their resolution urging Obama to pardon Johnson.
“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.” The original resolution overwhelmingly passed Congress in 2009. McCain and King have introduced virtually the same resolution in Congress to pardon Johnson since 2004.
Johnson was the victim of the blatantly racist Mann Act. The law made it illegal to transport women across state lines for immoral purposes. The act was nothing more than a thinly veiled effort to nail Johnson for cavorting with white women, and for doing the unthinkable and that’s wresting the heavyweight boxing crown from a white man in Reno in 1910. Johnson stood the sport and America on its racial head in winning the crown, and stood it further on its head with his brash, outspoken and unapologetic boasts and actions. That alone was a lynchable offense in racially violence prone, rigidly segregated Pre-World War II America.
Obama has not directly said that he wouldn’t pardon Johnson or for that matter has publicly said anything about the Johnson case. But the Justice Department has. In a statement in 2009, the department said that it does not traditionally recommend pardons for the deceased and that the president’s focus should be to pardon persons “who can truly benefit” from a pardon.
This is a spurious argument. Presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush granted posthumous pardons in Clinton’s case to Henry O. Flipper, the first black graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. And in 2008 Bush pardoned Charlie Winters for illegally selling decommissioned bombers to Israel during the Arab-Israeli war in 1948. No known public opposition has been voiced to the Johnson pardon request. In fact, other than sports trivia buffs, boxing historians, few Americans could even say who Johnson was, let alone identify what his alleged crime was.