Trump con­sid­er­ing par­don for late boxer Jack John­son

South Florida Times - - FRONT PAGE - By JILL COLVIN As­so­ci­ated Press writer Ka­reem Copeland con­trib­uted to this re­port.

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump says he’s con­sid­er­ing a post­hu­mous par­don for box­ing’s first black heavy­weight cham­pion more than 100 years af­ter the late Jack John­son was con­victed by all-white jury of ac­com­pa­ny­ing a white woman across state lines.

Trump an­nounced Sat­ur­day on Twit­ter that the ac­tor Sylvester Stal­lone, a friend of his, had called to bring John­son’s story to his at­ten­tion. “His tri­als and tribu­la­tions were great, his life com­plex and con­tro­ver­sial,” Trump wrote from his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida.“Oth­ers have looked at this over the years, most thought it would be done, but yes, I am con­sid­er­ing a Full Par­don!”

John­son is a leg­endary fig­ure in box­ing and crossed over into pop­u­lar cul­ture decades ago with bi­ogra­phies, dra­mas and doc­u­men­taries fol­low­ing the civil rights era.

Most fa­mously, his story was fic­tion­al­ized for the play “The Great White Hope,” star­ring James Earl Jones, which won the Pulitzer Prize for drama and the Tony Award for best play in 1969. A film ver­sion with Jones was re­leased in 1970. More re­cently, the doc­u­men­tary “Un­for­giv­able Black­ness: The Rise and Fall of Jack John­son,” di­rected by Ken Burns, was aired on PBS in 2004.

John­son was con­victed in 1913 for vi­o­lat­ing the Mann Act, which made it il­le­gal to trans­port women across state lines for “im­moral” pur­poses.

The boxer died in 1946. His great-great niece has pressed Trump for a post­hu­mous par­don, and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and for­mer Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., have been push­ing John­son’s case for years.

The tweet came a week af­ter Trump par­doned I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, who had been a top aide to Vice Pres­i­dent Dick Cheney, ar­gu­ing that Libby had been “treated un­fairly” by a spe­cial coun­sel.

Stal­lone, who starred in the 1976 box­ing film “Rocky” and sev­eral se­quels, is a sup­porter of the pres­i­dent and at­tended Trump’s New Years’ Eve party at Mar-aLago in 2016.

McCain pre­vi­ously told The As­so­ci­ated Press that John­son “was a box­ing leg­end and pioneer whose ca­reer and rep­u­ta­tion were ru­ined by a racially charged con­vic­tion more than a cen­tury ago.”

“John­son’s im­pris­on­ment forced him into the shad­ows of big­otry and prej­u­dice, and con­tin­ues to stand as a stain on our na­tional honor,” McCain said ear­lier this month.

In Jim Crow Amer­ica, John­son was one of the most de­spised African-Amer­i­can of his gen­er­a­tion, hu­mil­i­at­ing white fighters and flaunt­ing his af­fec­tion for white women.

The son of for­mer slaves, he de­feated Tommy Burns for the heavy­weight title in 1908 at a time when blacks and whites rarely en­tered the same ring. He then mowed down a series of “great white hopes,” cul­mi­nat­ing in 1910 with the un­de­feated for­mer cham­pion, James J. Jef­fries.

“He is one of the crafti­est, cun­ningest box­ers that ever stepped into the ring,” said the leg­endary boxer John L. Sul­li­van, in the af­ter­math of what was called “the fight of the cen­tury.”

But John­son also re­fused to ad­here to so­ci­etal norms, liv­ing lav­ishly and brazenly and dat­ing out­side of his race in a time when whites of­ten killed African-Amer­i­cans with­out fear of le­gal reper­cus­sions.

Af­ter seven years as a fugi­tive fol­low­ing his con­vic­tion, John­son even­tu­ally re­turned to the U.S. and turned him­self in. He served about a year in fed­eral prison and was re­leased in 1921. He died in 1946 in an auto crash.

The stain on John­son’s rep­u­ta­tion forced some fam­ily mem­bers to live in shame of his legacy.

The fam­ily “didn’t talk about it be­cause they were ashamed of him, that he went to prison,” Linda E. Hay­wood, 61, has said of her great-great un­cle. “They were led to be­lieve that he did some­thing wrong. They were so ashamed af­ter be­ing so proud of him.”

Hay­wood said she didn’t find out she was re­lated to John­son un­til she was 12. She re­mem­bers learn­ing about John­son when she was in sixth grade dur­ing Black His­tory Month, and only learned later that he was kin.

Once, she re­called, she asked her mother about John­son.

“She just gri­maced,” Hay­wood said.

Hay­wood has pressed to have John­son par­doned since Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush was in of­fice, a decade ago.

Post­hu­mous par­dons are rare, but not un­prece­dented. Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton par­doned Henry O. Flip­per, the first African-Amer­i­can of­fi­cer to lead the Buf­falo Sol­diers of the 10th Cav­alry Reg­i­ment dur­ing the Civil War; he was framed for em­bez­zle­ment. Bush par­doned Charles Win­ters in 2008, an Amer­i­can vol­un­teer in the Arab-Is­raeli War con­victed of vi­o­lat­ing the U.S. Neu­tral­ity Acts in 1949.

Hay­wood wanted Barack Obama, the na­tion’s first black pres­i­dent, to par­don John­son, but Jus­tice Depart­ment policy says “pro­cess­ing post­hu­mous par­don pe­ti­tions is grounded in the be­lief that the time of the of­fi­cials in­volved in the clemency process is bet­ter spent on the par­don and com­mu­ta­tion re­quests of liv­ing per­sons.”

The Jus­tice Depart­ment makes de­ci­sions on po­ten­tial par­dons through an ap­pli­ca­tion process and typ­i­cally makes rec­om­men­da­tions to the pres­i­dent. The gen­eral DOJ policy is to not ac­cept ap­pli­ca­tions for post­hu­mous par­dons for fed­eral con­vic­tions, ac­cord­ing to the depart­ment’s web­site.

But Trump has shown a will­ing­ness to work around the DOJ process.


Jack John­son

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