Listen, if all it takes is a phone call from a famous person to get things done in Washington, D.C., can we hand some talking points and PowerPoint slides to celebrities with common sense?
According to your president and his Twitter fingers, Sylvester Stallone called him and shared with him the story of early-20th-century heavyweight champ Jack Johnson. Johnson had been the subject of significant racial resentment, especially after his defeat of white boxer James Jeffries in the “Fight of the Century” in 1910. Johnson’s win sparked race riots across the nation, and footage of the bout was banned from being shown.
In 1913 he was convicted of violating the Mann Act for traveling with his white girlfriend across state lines, although the incidents for which he was convicted occurred before passage of the act. According to CNN, “The Mann Act purported to prevent human trafficking for the purpose of prostitution, but critics have argued it was applied inconsistently to criminalize African Americans and those with dissenting political views.”
Such was the situation for Jack Johnson.
Johnson was convicted by an all-white jury and sentenced to a year and a day in prison. After his conviction, Johnson fled the country and continued to fight overseas in Europe, South America and Mexico, but he eventually returned to the United States and served 10 months in prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.
Several lawmakers have petitioned to have Johnson pardoned posthumously on the grounds that his conviction was unjust. According to CNN:
In 2016, then-Sen. Harry Reid and Sen. John McCain, along with Reps. Peter King and Gregory Meeks, petitioned the Obama administration to grant a pardon to Johnson. The bipartisan group of lawmakers sent a letter to the White House asking that the pardon be given in honor of the 70th anniversary of the boxer’s death.
“While it is unfortunate that this unjust conviction was not corrected during the boxer’s lifetime, a posthumous pardon today represents the opportunity to reaffirm Jack Johnson’s substantial contributions to our society and right this historical wrong,” the letter said.
A similar resolution was proposed in 2017, this time with Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) joining Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).
Why Johnson has not been pardoned for what was clearly an abuse of power and unjust reading of a federal statute is anybody’s guess. What is known is that he is one of the greatest boxers of all time, and the government’s insistence on taking down a black hero hasn’t been stifled by history.
While President Donald Trump isn’t exactly a favorite person of most people of color, perhaps he can step in here and do what hasn’t been done before and right a wrong. It won’t ingratiate him with any of us, but we’ll be really happy about it.
Yo, Sly, call him back, b.