Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Now Is the Time to Pardon Jack Johnson

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Now Is the Time to Pardon Jack Johnson

Article excerpt

For all the things President Obama says he can't do because of the political gridlock in Washington, he can right a century-old wrong simply by picking up a pen. Tomorrow wouldn't be too soon.

Jack Johnson, boxing's first black heavyweight champion, was arrested in October 1912, railroaded by an all-white jury the following June and eventually served a year in prison, essentially for escorting a white woman across state lines. All these years later, for all the other things that have changed since, Johnson's name is still lashed to those tracks.

For the third time in less than a decade, a bipartisan group of lawmakers sent a resolution back to the president's desk Tuesday urging him to change that by granting Johnson a posthumous pardon. The first one went up to the White House in 2004, but it was declined by Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush, even though while governor of Texas, Bush honored the Galveston native with a "Jack Johnson Day" for five straight years.

Obama, likewise, passed on his first chance in 2009. By way of explanation, the attorney in charge of pardons at the Department of Justice said at the time that the resources of his small staff could be put to better use pardoning the living. Fair enough. There are plenty of deserving people who could benefit from clemency right now.

Yet in terms of granting pardons, Obama has room to spare. So far, he's been the least generous president in modern history, issuing a total of 39, including 17 just last week, and none posthumously.

Two of Johnson's staunchest backers, Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Rep. Peter King of New York, both Republicans, were joined in the latest effort by Democrats Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada and Rep. William Cowan of Massachusetts.

"Johnson's memory was unjustly tarnished by a racially motivated criminal conviction and it is now time to recast his legacy," Reid said in a statement. …

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