Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns initiated the Johnson pardon movement in 2004 to seek a full posthumous presidential pardon for boxer Jack Johnson. His efforts are supported by artists, musicians, politicians and many others.
In 1908, Johnson became the world's first African-American heavy weight champion by defeating Tommy Burns. This victory spurred racial riots and the search for "the great white hope" that would reinstate the championship to the white race. This "hope" came in the form of former champion Jim Jeffries. Much to the chagrin of bigots nationwide, Johnson defeated Jeffries in 1910. This victory, and his continued audacity to "flaunt" his romantic relationships with white women, further aggravated the racial tensions of the time. That same year Johnson was arrested under the Mann Act for transporting his future wife Lucille Cameron across state lines for "immoral purposes."
The Mann Act, passed in 1910, outlawed the transportation of women in interstate or foreign commerce “for the purpose of prostitution, debauchery, or for any other immoral purpose.” Johnson's trial, however, marked the first time that the Mann Act was invoked to invade the personal privacy of two consenting adults and criminalize their consensual sexual behavior.
His marriage to Lucille in 1913 sparked public outrage. The 1913 hysteria, as it was unofficially known, motivated politicians to take more severe action against interracial unions. A series of antimiscegenation bills were introduced in ten of the twenty states where interracial marriage was not prohibited - five alone in Illinois, where the Johnson-Cameron union took place.
Although the Bureau of Investigation initially failed to bring charges against Johnson under the Mann Act, they managed to find a former flame (a white woman) who was willing to testify against him. Johnson fled the country following his conviction and lived in Europe as a fugitive from justice for seven years. He returned to the U.S. in 1920, surrendered to authorities and served a year in prison. Although he continued to fight, Johnson's career was irrevocably tainted. He died in a car crash in 1946.
Recognizing the racial bigotry that was at the heart of his conviction, the Johnson pardon movement, now egged on by Senator John McCain is urging President Obama to remove this long standing stain on Jack Johnson's record. In a letter to Obama, the Senator has urged the President to "right this wrong and erase an act of racism that sent an American citizen to prison."
We await the answer.
Source: Virginia Hasn't Always Been for Lovers by Phyl Newbeck