Jack Johnson was Muhammad Ali first. He was an exceptional boxer; the man was legendary for his ability to avoid punches. But the government ultimately got to him. Johnson was convicted under the Mann Act, an odious piece of legislation, for having consensual sex with a white woman with whom he crossed state lines.
We hear about what baseball player Hank Aaron went through, the things he had to listen to, as he worked his way from the Deep South to the Major Leagues. But what Johnson was subjected to is almost unfathomable in its cruelty and hate.
Much of the country shuddered at the idea that a black man could win the coveted heavyweight boxing championship. Boxing was huge in 1908, the year Johnson won the title. To get it back in white hands, promoters scoured the country for a Great White Hope. But Johnson held the championship until 1915.
Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who has long tried to clean up boxing, and Rep. Peter King of New York, are, via a congressional resolution, trying to convince President Obama to pardon Johnson.
I hope it happens. If you have any interest in the Johnson legend, or a curiousity about what it was like to be a black champion in the early 1900s, ead "Papa Jack: Jack Johnson and the Era of White Hopes," a superb biography.