Begging your pardon, Mr. President

It’s time for a posthumous pardon for boxer Jack Johnson

Dear Mr. President,

I can only imagine that with 46 days to go in your term that your to-do list is a lengthy one. I hope you might consider adding one more item before you turn your attention to Michelle’s honey-do list.

It is time to right a 104-year-old wrong and issue a presidential pardon to Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight boxing champion. He was pursued, tormented, arrested, convicted and imprisoned for year and a day simply because he was a black man determined to live fearlessly and freely at a time when racism was commonplace.

Jack Johnson, center, with cigar, poses with federal authorities after turning himself in at the U.S.-Mexico border on July 20, 1920. He was sent to Leavenworth to serve a sentence of one year and one day for violating the Mann Act. (Jack Bacon Collection)

His conviction under the Mann Act was a travesty in 1912, forcing him to leave the country as a fugitive for eight years. When he turned himself in to federal authorities in 1920, they all posed for a photo. The warden at Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary, former Nevada Gov. Denver Dickerson, made Johnson the athletic director at the prison and his cell was unlocked.

Now more than a century later, the fact Johnson’s conviction remains in the public record is, frankly, an embarrassment.

I know I am neither the first nor the most-prominent to ask for you to take this action. U.S. Senators Harry Reid and John McCain, U.S. Rep. Peter King, filmmaker Ken Burns and former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson have all called for a posthumous pardon for Johnson, who died in 1946. Just this past June, Congress, which I don’t have to tell you can’t seem to agree on anything but disagreement, approved a petition urging you to issue the pardon.

Please do, Mr. President.

Not because you are the first African American president issuing a pardon to the first African American heavyweight champion.

Not because Jack Johnson asked for it. He never did and he’s been dead for 70 years. He is honored with a statue in his hometown of Galveston, Texas and the undisputed fact he was wronged has been depicted in books, film, theater and resolutions.

The reason you should issue this pardon would reflect everything you have tried to do during your time in office: It is the right thing to do.


Guy Clifton

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.