Wednesday former Presidential candidate John McCain, Rep. Peter King, filmmaker Ken Burns and the great niece of the first African American Heavy Weight Champion of the world, Jack Johnson, announced a resolution urging President Barack Obama to grant Johnson a presidential pardon. Jack Johnson was convicted in 1913 of violating the Mann Act that prohibited African Americans from having a consensual relationship with Caucasian Americans. Johnson was known to have had liaisons with Caucasian women and in fact had three Caucasian wives: Etta Terry Duryea, Lucille Cameron, and his widow, Irene Pineau.
Johnson ran from the law but later surrendered to Federal authorities on July 20, 1920 and spent one year in Leavenworth.
Jack Johnson was the best professional boxer of his era and endured tremendous racism for his athletic abilities. Johnson fought and masterfully won countless boxing matches against Caucasian peers to the chagrin of the boxing world and the press. This led to calls for “a great white hope” that would put “the nigger ape” back in his “rightful place.” The search for the “great white hope” ended with a so-called hero named James Jeffries. The match was called “the fight of the century.”
On July 4, 1910, “the fight of the century” was won by a knock out that left Jeffries teeth embedded in Johnson’s glove. Because of the Caucasian communities anger and frustration at Johnson’s win, “race riots” occurred across the U.S. leaving 23 African Americans dead and numerous others injured. Johnson held on to the Heavy Weight Championship title from 1908-1915. Jack Johnson was also the first celebrity athlete. Johnson endorsed various products in print and radio ads. Jack Johnson also made several movie appearances.
Jack Johnson endured and fought against racist attitudes all his life. The day of his death, Johnson argued with a North Carolina diner owner over not being served because of his cultural identity. So enraged by this injustice, Jack Johnson left the diner angered and lost control of his car, crashed and died in 1946 at the age of 68.