Will Boxer Jack Johnson Win Pardon for Jim Crow Era Crime?

Black Champ Took White Woman Across State Lines

Posthumous Pardon? Activists in Jack Johnson’s hometown of Galveston, Tex., want his record cleared.
getty images
Posthumous Pardon? Activists in Jack Johnson’s hometown of Galveston, Tex., want his record cleared.

By Reuters

Published April 04, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Civil rights activists in Texas are seeking a pardon from President Barack Obama for the late boxer Jack Johnson, an African-American convicted a century ago for the crime of taking a woman across state lines.

“Here in 2013, this man shouldn’t still be carrying the stigma of being convicted,” said Leon Phillips of the Galveston County Coalition for Justice.

Johnson, who died in 1946, was born in Galveston and fought under the nickname The Galveston Giant. He was the first black heavyweight boxing champion of the world, and faced off against a series of fighters each dubbed The Great White Hope, who were urged to strip Johnson of his title.

This was in the Jim Crow era of segregation in the United States, when African-Americans were generally not allowed to participate in sports with whites, and black men consorting with white women could be selectively targeted by law enforcement.

In 1912, at the height of his fame, Johnson was arrested with Lucille Cameron, a white woman who would later become his wife, for violating the Mann Act, a law that had passed two years earlier in response to a morality campaign.

The law made it a federal crime for a man to transport a woman across state lines “for immoral purposes.”

Cameron refused to testify against Jackson, and when he was convicted the following year, it was for taking another white woman, former girlfriend Belle Schreiber, across state lines. He was sentenced to spend a year and a day in prison.

In a video made to promote the request for a presidential pardon, Linda Haywood, Johnson’s great-grand-niece, draws a parallel to today’s battle over same-sex marriage.

“This was about who you love and how you love,” she said. “A pardon would erase the shame and the stigma and allow us to hold our heads up high.”

A White House spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In 2009, Congress passed a resolution encouraging Obama, the nation’s first black president, to pardon Johnson.

On Sunday, at a rally at the recently named Jack Johnson Park in Galveston, where there is a statue of the boxer, former Galveston City Council Member Tarris Woods said that the president should remove an injustice.

“One hundred and one years ago, this was injustice,” Woods said. “One hundred and one years later, he has still not been pardoned.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.