TV Time Out

100 years later, Congress gets it right

By: Steve Moss
By: Steve Moss

Boxing aficionados will recognize the name Jack Johnson. The Texan became the first black heavyweight champion of the world, albeit, in 1908, when news traveled about as quickly as a snail. Unfortunately, Johnson became a fallen figure after being imprisoned in 1913.

Boxing aficionados will recognize the name Jack Johnson.  The Texan became the first black heavyweight champion of the world, albeit, in 1908, when news traveled about as quickly as a snail. 

Unfortunately, Johnson became a fallen figure after being imprisoned in 1913.

Johnson so severely battered Canadian Tommy Burns that Australian police stepped in and stopped the 14-round match, giving Johnson the belt.  It left boxing fans searching for the next "great white hope," someone who could beat Johnson and take the title away from him.

Ultimately, fans got their wish two years later, when Jim Jefferies, the American titleholder, came out of retirement and fought Johnson in what was billed "the Battle of the Century."  Johnson retained his world title, but the win led to deadly riots.

Johnson was arrested and convicted of violating the Mann Act, which made it illegal to transport women across state lines for immoral purposes.  Essentially, Johnson was jailed for his romantic ties to a white woman.

After fleeing the country, Johnson returned to the U.S. to serve a 10-month jail sentence.  After leaving prison, Johnson tried to revive his career, but never regained his status as world champion.

Johnson died in a car crash in 1946.

Fast forward nearly 100 years to the halls of Congress, where a resolution was approved on Wednesday by the House of Representatives urging Barack Obama to pardon Johnson.  The Senate approved the resolution last month.

The resolution says Johnson should be posthumously pardoned "for the racially motivated conviction in 1913 that diminished the athletic, cultural and historic significance of Jack Johnson and unduly tarnished his reputation."

Ken Burns, the filmmaker known for his documentaries on the Civil War and baseball, examined Johnson's case.  He found that the sentencing judge admitted a desire to "send a message" to black men about their relationships with white women.

There is no word on if or when President Obama will grant the pardon.

That's an incredible story.

Those are the highlights... Stay tuned.

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