The pardon of Jack Johnson: it is not another racial segregation anecdote

The posthumous pardon to the African American boxer Jack Johnson reflects the fight for human rights that has been developing and how sport does not escape from it

The pardon of Jack Johnson: it is not another racial segregation anecdote

On May 24th, U.S. president Donald Trump granted a posthumous pardon to the African American boxer Jack Johnson. Johnson, who died in 1946, had been prosecuted for having affairs with a white woman, a clear sign of the radical racial segregation that existed during a large part of the 20th century in the United States.

Leer en español: El indulto de Jack Johnson: no es una anécdota más de segregación racial

"I’ve issued an executive grant of clemency, a full pardon, posthumously, to John Arthur “Jack” Johnson — he was known as “Jack Johnson” — the first African American heavyweight champion of the world," Trump said during a meeting at the White House Oval Office. In this place, famous people of the American public life met, like the ex-boxer Lennox Lewis and Sylvester Stallone, that gave life to the legendary "Rocky Balboa" in eight films, of which one is in process.

In fact, it was Stallone who advocated in recent months for the pardon, as the president said in his Twitter account, in the month of April. "Sylvester Stallone called me with the story of heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson," wrote Donald Trump.

"Justice lame ... but it arrives"

Johnson's life was not the easiest. Born in 1878 in the cradle of former American slaves, since childhood he suffered the race struggle that predominated in the United States. However, that did not stop him from being part of history as he was the first African American who won a world boxing title against James Jeffries, the world champion at that time, in 1908.

Of course, the defeat of a white person like Jeffries at the hands of a black person like Johnson was not viewed with good eyes among the racist society of the early 20th century in the United States. So the triumph of the African American pugilist resulted in a wave of racial violence, strengthened by fanatical groups.

It is because of this that, faced with the need to stop Johnson's influence on African American communities, in 1913 he was unjustly charged with kidnapping by finding him with Lucille Cameron, a white woman with whom he had traveled throughout the country. For the decade, from 1910 to 1920 it was illegal to travel from one state to another in the company of a white woman with "immoral purposes", as dictated by the Mann Law.

Faced with this accusation, Johnson decided to leave the country to European lands to fight there. It was not until 1920 that the former boxer returned to the U.S. to pay a sentence of almost 10 months that ended his career, and that for a long time was just one more anecdote of the racial segregation that afflicted North America. "By this pardon being issued, that would help to rewrite history, and erase the shame and the humiliation that my family felt for my uncle, a great hero, being in prison unjustly," said Linda Haywood, one of her descendants, according to the BBC.

Peter Norman: the Australian with African American pride

Just as it happened with Johnson, there are stories that reflect the racial struggle that hundreds of athletes carried on their backs, even during the moments of competition. An example of this is the imprint left by the Australian athlete Peter Norman, after finishing the race of 200 meters in the Mexico City 1968 Olympic Games.

Norman, white-skinned, did not hesitate to carry the logo of the Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR), a movement with which African Americans sought to protest the inequality that was lived in their country.

On the podium, while Tommie Smith (first in the competition) and John Carlos (third) raised their right and left hands respectively in reference to the Black power they defended; Peter Norman became a statue in the second place, carrying the OPHR logo just above the coat of arms of the Australian Committee.

For more than four decades, the memory of Norman was not the most gratifying among his fellow Australians, who initially saw the action of the athlete as an affront to the very ideals and history of Australia.

"I knew the history of Australia about how they had treated the aborigines. I knew that this could be a problem for him because it was interpreted as being on behalf of the blacks of the United States. And that's what happened. Like us, he was kicked out of the Olympic Village, abused in his country, they separated him socially," Tommie Smith recalled in an interview with the newspaper El País of Spain in 2008.

Precisely Smith and John Carlos were the ones who transported Peter Norman's coffin to his grave when he died in 2006. However, in 2012, parliamentarian Andrew Leigh decided to pass the case to the House of Representatives, and it was there that a posthumous apology was made to Norman. "I don't think Australia did the right thing by him. I don't think we gave recognition to somebody who'd done so much to stand for racial equality, "Leigh said during the debate in the Parliament.

Latin American Post | Christopher Ramírez Hernández

Translated from "El indulto de Jack Johnson: no es una anécdota más de segregación racial"

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