HOUSTON (AP) — Relatives and hometown supporters of the nation’s first black heavyweight boxing champion are turning to YouTube (watch on page 2) to convince President Barack Obama to posthumously pardon him of a 1913 conviction for accompanying a white woman across state lines.
Jack Johnson, nicknamed the “Galveston Giant” after his Texas hometown, was at the center of racial tensions after winning the title in 1908. When he defended his title by defeating white boxer Jim Jeffries in 1910, dubbed the “Fight of the Century,” the victory sparked deadly race riots across the county.
Three years later, Johnson was convicted by an all-white jury for violating a Jim Crow-era law that made it illegal to transport white women across state lines for “immoral purposes.” He was sentenced to a year in prison.
His family and other supporters say he did nothing wrong and that the century-old conviction continues to tarnish Johnson’s image. Lawmakers have asked for a pardon three times in the past decade, most recently in March, though none has been successful. The Justice Department has said its general policy is not to process posthumous pardon requests, and the White House declined to comment on the most recent congressional resolution.
So on Sunday, to mark what would have been Johnson’s 135th birthday, his relatives and supporters gathered in Galveston to honor him and record a video to go straight to Obama.
Leon Phillips, president of the Galveston County Coalition for Justice, which helped spearhead the effort, told The Associated Press on Tuesday the video adds another layer of support.
“Not only is it coming from Congress, but it will be coming from the citizens of the United States if we can just get everyone to click on that like button,” he said. “President Obama’s father could have been convicted of the same thing because he was married to a white woman and they traveled all over the world and from state to state.”
Johnson’s great-great niece, Linda Haywood, said Johnson was “railroaded” by authorities.