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Deontay Wilder Attends White House Jack Johnson Pardon Ceremony

Michael Woods

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At long last, some justice was served up to Jack Johnson, the first African American heavyweight champion, who was convicted in 1912 of violating the Mann Act, which forbade a person from taking a woman across state lines for  “immoral purposes.”

That charge was levied because the thought of a black man canoodling with a white woman enraged small minds in that era.

In these tumultuous times, debate still rages as to the treatment of minorities at the hands of authorities, and indeed, we saw an example of continuing turmoil with Wednesday’s announcement that the NFL was cracking down in public player displays of activism.

On Thursday, a day after offering a hearty thumbs up at the NFL stance, President Trump zagged when he  issued an Executive Grant of Clemency (Full Pardon) posthumously Johnson, who served 10 months in prison for the crime of having a white lover.

The White House posted this explanation of the route to pardon:

((Born in 1878 in Galveston, Texas, to former slaves, Johnson overcame difficult circumstances to reach the heights of the boxing world and inspired generations with his tenacity and independent spirit.

Congress has supported numerous resolutions calling for Johnson’s pardon.  These resolutions enjoyed widespread bipartisan support, including from the Congressional Black Caucus.  One of these resolutions passed Congress as recently as 2015.

In light of these facts and in recognition of his historic athletic achievements and contributions to society, the President believes Jack Johnson is worthy of a posthumous pardon.  President Trump is taking this unusual step to “right a wrong” that occurred in our history and honor the legacy of a champion.))

Heavyweight movers and shakers including Sylvester Stallone, and WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder, as well as Hall Of Famer Lennox Lewis, went to DC and took in the pardon festivities.

Team Wilder offered up these quotes from the Alabama boxer:

“Jack Johnson is a pioneer, not just in this sport, but for African-Americans throughout the country,” said Wilder. “The things that he had to endure, made it possible for me and my family to live the lives we lead today. Everything we do in this sport is in honor of the legacy that he left behind.

 “In many ways, we’re still fighting that same fight that Johnson fought a century ago. We have to continue to try to speak truth to power and keep pushing towards a better tomorrow despite rhetoric that’s meant to split us apart. Hopefully this pardon is something symbolic that can help unify, but the most important thing we can do is stay engaged every day and live our values so that our culture doesn’t repeat these mistakes.”

My three cents: There is and will be debate about the meaningfulness of this pardon. Firstly, it is a win for the family of Johnson, who was the son of slaves; some family and activists have been tireless in keeping hope alive to get this pardon. So the win, from their perspective, must be celebrated. In the bigger picture, resistors to the reign of Mr Trump will note that yesterday he said that NFL players who don’t kneel for the anthem should maybe leave the US, which is spitting in the face of freedom of expression, and that he’d been more supportive of Neo Nazis and white nationalists right to protest than the NFLers.

Thus, many would be inclined to think this pardon by Trump is nothing more than posturing, a continuation of a divide and conquer effort which he started with his insistence that President Obama’s birth certificate was bogus and that Mr Obama was in fact disqualified from holding his office.

There will be those that disagree with Wilder and Lewis being present to take part in the pardon gathering, for benefit of the media.

These are the times we are in; the Jim Crow era which had Johnson fighting only blacks, and then being held back from getting at shot at the heavyweight crown, and then being fed a diet of White Hopes, and scorn from racists, was heated. Many of us had that we’d progressed as a nation further than we have, but an uptick in public displays of racism has made us painfully aware that such ugliness still exists, and more widely than most had presumed. The persons of color who on a daily basis face mistreatment at the hands of law enforcement, which is so much of what those NFLers are taking a knee to take a stand against, can attest to the need for a radical change being necessary. These times, too, are heated. Pardon me if I can’t extract much of a feeling of goodwill and such from this pardon, not as immigrants are being demonized, and every week sees another viral video of a black person being treated with overt harshness by people in leadership and public safety positions.

Editor/publisher Michael Woods became addicted to boxing in 1990, when Buster Douglas shocked the world with his demolition of the fearsome Mike Tyson. The Brooklyn-based journalist Woods has covered the sport since then, for ESPN The Magazine, ESPN.com, ESPN New York, RING, and he was editor of TheSweetScience.com from 2007-2015. Woods is also an accomplished blow by blow and color man, having done work for Top Rank, DiBella Entertainment, EPIX, and numerous other organizations.

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