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Activists Seek Pardon for Jack Johnson

Jack Johnson

Civil rights activists in Texas are seeking a pardon from President Barack Obama for the late boxer Jack Johnson, an African-American convicted a century ago for the crime of taking a woman across state lines.

“Here in 2013, this man shouldn’t still be carrying the stigma of being convicted,” said Leon Phillips of the Galveston County Coalition for Justice.

Johnson, who died in 1946, was born in Galveston and fought under the nickname The Galveston Giant. He was the first Black heavyweight boxing champion of the world, and faced off against a series of fighters each dubbed The Great White Hope, who were urged to strip Johnson of his title.

This was in the Jim Crow era of segregation in the United States, when African-Americans were generally not allowed to participate in sports with Whites, and Black men consorting with White women could be selectively targeted by law enforcement.

In 1912, at the height of his fame, Johnson was arrested with Lucille Cameron, a White woman who would later become his wife, for violating the Mann Act, a law that had passed two years earlier in response to a morality campaign.

The law made it a federal crime for a man to transport a woman across state lines “for immoral purposes.”

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