Jack Johnson’s niece said, “The color of your skin should not determine who you, or how you, love.”
In 1908, Jack “the Galveston Giant” Johnson became the first African American Heavyweight Boxing Champion in the world amid growing racial tensions in the US. After defending his title by defeating the white boxer Jim Jeffries in 1910, in what was dubbed the “Fight of the Century,” deadly race riots spread across the US. And according to the Associated Press, in 1913, Johnson was convicted by an all-white jury under the Mann Act, which was passed in June of 1910, and made it illegal to transport white women across state lines for “immoral purposes,” and sentenced to a year in prison.
Johnson’s family and other supporters insist he did nothing wrong, and that the conviction should be overturned. Lawmakers in Congress have requested a pardon for Johnson, claiming that the conviction continues to tarnish his image, and his families memories. The Justice Department has told Johnson’s family and lawmakers that their “general policy is not to process posthumous pardon request.”
On Sunday, to celebrate what would have been Johnson’s 135th birthday, relatives, supporters, and the president of the Galveston County Coalition for Justice, Leon Phillips, gathered in Johnson’s hometown to honor him, and to record a video for President Obama that they hope will help bring attention to the injustice their family still struggles with. Phillips told the AP, “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.”
Linda Haywood, Johnson’s great-great niece, believes Johnson was “railroaded” by authorities. She said,
I didn’t know the man was my uncle until I was 12 years old, that’s how ashamed my family was of the fact that he went to prison. A pardon would erase the shame and the stigma and allow us to hold our heads up high because we know what a great man he was.
I’m asking President Obama as the first black, African-American president to give my uncle a pardon. A lot of times when he would come to his sister’s house or his mother’s house he had to sneak at night with his white girlfriend or his wife because of the times that they lived in.
The color of your skin should not determine who you, or how you, love.
So far there has not been much attention given to this case, or the YouTube video, but Johnson’s family and supporters say they are “determined” to get the story out.