Senate asks Obama to pardon late boxing legend Jack Johnson

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. Senate urged President Barack Obama to pardon the late black heavyweight champion Jack Johnson, who was sent to prison nearly a century ago because of his romantic ties with a white woman.

Johnson became the first black heavyweight champion in 1908 — 100 years before Obama was elected America’s first black president. The boxer was convicted in 1913 of violating the Mann Act, which made it illegal to transport women across state lines for immoral purposes. The law has since been heavily amended, but has not been repealed.  The resolution was sponsored by Obama’s 2008 opponent, John McCain. Similar resolutions offered in 2004 and last year failed to pass both chambers of Congress.

He said that there would be “tremendous historic significance” in the nation’s first black president pardoning the nation’s first black heavyweight champ. King added that he hoped Congress will take up the resolution next month.  Neither McCain nor the White House immediately responded to requests for comment. But in unveiling the resolution in April, McCain said, “We need to erase this act of racism which sent an American citizen to prison on a trumped-up charge.” It (the resolution) says a pardon would “expunge a racially motivated abuse of the prosecutorial authority of the federal government from the annals of criminal justice in the United States.”

Freestyle with me, is this actually a good thing? Jack Johnson is dead and gone after spending years in prison.  It seems that this sweep under the rug would actually erase the countries conscience and memory of what Jack Johnson went through.  Is this the best way to fix his reputation?  I am curious what you think…

Published by Drew G. I. Hart, PhD

Drew G. I. Hart is a theology professor in the Biblical & Religious Studies department at Messiah College with ten years of pastoral experience. Hart majored in Biblical Studies at Messiah College as an undergraduate student, he attained his M.Div. with an urban concentration from Missio Seminary in Philadelphia, and he received his Ph.D. in theology and ethics from Lutheran Theological Seminary-Philadelphia. Drew was born and raised in Norristown, Pa and has lived extensively in Philadelphia and Harrisburg, PA as well. Dr. Hart’s dissertation research explored how Christian discipleship, as framed by Black theologies and contemporary Anabaptist theologies, gesture the Church towards untangling the forces of white supremacy and the inertia of western Christendom which have plagued its witness in society for too long. As two traditions that emerged from the underside of violent and oppressive western Christian societies, he found Black theology and Anabaptism each repeatedly turning to the particularity of Jesus in the gospel narratives. From that arises an ethic of solidarity with the oppressed and pursuing liberation in Black theology and an ethic of radical peacemaking and ecclesial nonconformity in the Anabaptist tradition. Each challenge the violent and oppressive logics of mainstream western Christianity and salvage the call to follow the way of Christ. Together in dialogue they deepen our analysis of the churches failures and the need for Jesus-shaped repentance. His work beyond teaching and writing has included pastoring in Harrisburg and Philadelphia, working for an inner-city afterschool program for black and brown middle school boys, delivering lectures and leading anti-racism workshops, collaborating with local faith-based organizers and activists in his city, and doing a broad range of public theology. He is also a co-leader for a local Harrisburg faith-based relational network called FREE Together which has collaborated with POWER Interfaith, MILPA, the Shut Down Berks Detention Center movement, and a little with the Poor People’s Campaign. Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism by Drew Hart, has received great reviews by Publisher’s Weekly and Englewood Review of Books. Endorsing this resource, Shane Claiborne said, “This book is a gift from the heart of one of the sharpest young theologians in the United States. Hold it carefully, and allow it to transform you--and our blood-stained streets.” As a text, Trouble I’ve Seen utilizes personal and everyday stories, Jesus-shaped theological ethics, and anti-racism frameworks to transform the church’s understanding and social witness. Trouble I’ve Seen focuses on white supremacy as an overarching framework for understanding racism, with careful attention to its systemic and socializing dimensions. However, unlike sociology textbooks on the subject Dr. Hart also considers the subversive vocation of Jesus and the nonviolent yet revolutionary implications his life ought to have for his followers today. His newest book project is entitled Who Will Be a Witness?: Igniting Activism for God’s Justice, Love, and Deliverance and will be published September 1, 2020. Who Will Be A Witness? invites the church to liberate its centuries long captivity to supremacist practices, and to expand its restricted political imagination in view of Jesus’ messianic reign. The book guides disciples of Jesus into joining God’s delivering presence through scriptural reasoning, historical reflection, practical theology for congregational life, social change theory, and the Christian call to love our neighbor. It is written for congregations, leaders, and students that understand that pursuing God’s justice goes way beyond waiting around for electoral seasons to come around. It is about the ongoing vocation of the Church right now, at the grassroots level, seeking after the wellbeing of their neighbors through faithful, strategic, and concrete action. Drew recently joined the Inverse Podcast team serving as a cohost along with Australian peace activist Jarrod Mckenna. Together they interview interesting people and explore how scripture can turn our ethical imagination and the violent and unjust systems of our world upside-down, which contrasts with interpreting the Bible as a tool for the status quo. Dr. Drew Hart was the recipient of bcmPEACE’s 2017 Peacemaker Award, a 2019 W.E.B. Dubois Award from a Disciples of Christ congregation, and in October 2019, Dr. Hart was chosen as Elizabethtown College’s 2019 Peace Fellow. Each award recognized him for his local and national justice work and public theology. You can find Drew Hart on Twitter and Facebook, or you can catch him as he travels and speaks regularly across the country to colleges, conferences, and churches. Drew and Renee, and their three boys (Micah, Dietrich, and Vincent) live in Harrisburg, PA and attend Harrisburg First Church of the Brethren.

6 thoughts on “Senate asks Obama to pardon late boxing legend Jack Johnson

  1. My brotha, finally we have time… to think and respond to something other than classwork. I did not know he died in prison. I am sorry to hear that. I don’t think it would necessary to pardon him now. I think the stigma of injustice should remain a pungent aroma in the nostrils of our hearts. It’s like driving over or near a skunk… you always remember the significance of wanting to get as far away from it as possible, and never, ever wanting to get near it again, hoping it didn’t get on your car.

  2. Well said… it’s interesting that when it comes to the atrocities of racism done against blacks, people often want to forget and move on. However, with the holocaust the Jews have a saying “Never Forget, Never Again”. With the drastic nature of the middle passage (where more died than in the holocaust), slavery for 250 years, followed by black codes, Jim Crow laws, 5,000 lynchings (the ones recorded, not the total), discrimination, and racial profiling, I think it would be fair for us to take on a similar ideology as our Jewish brothers and sisters. Like you said Albert, the memory should provoke and disturb us, hopefully preventing such things from ever happening again.

  3. In the text it says that “The law has since been heavily amended, but has not been repealed.”
    I have a question: Would Mr. Johnson still be found quilty of the law as it stands now?

  4. There are plenty of ridiculous laws that are seen as unjust or irrelevant that are officially on the books still in many towns throughout the U.S., however they are not executed or followed through anymore. From the sound of it, he Well they didn’t mention the specifics of either the old law or the new law. But it seems clear that the senate sees his sentencing as a “trumped-up charge.” In another article it says specifically that the judge said he wanted to make an example out of Jack Johnson, because of his relationship with the white woman. I don’t think the Senate would be worried about a person’s reputation if they thought he was truly guilty of the crime he was sentenced for. That’s my thoughts at least, but of course there is some speculation on my part.

  5. Just because I heard that Eliot Spitzer was to be charged under the same law, I was curious. Eliot was with a prostitute. I was wondering if Mr. Johnson might have been guilty of the same since some of the biographies paint him as having quite the appetite for women.
    Personally, I think John McCain is shameful for bringing up this resolution because I think he’s just pandering and has no real heartfelt reason behind it.
    Other than that – Jack Johnson was due the apology and anything done now is about as useful as utters on a bull. It’s water under the bridge in the sense that the injured party is no longer with us.
    Let his memory serve to remind us to be better. I think that would please Mr Johnson (and honor his memory) more than anything else.

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