jack_johnsonAlmost a century after the first African American heavyweight boxing champion, Jack Johnson, was convicted of crossing state lines with a white prostitute, a pair of conservative Republican boxing enthusiasts are putting pressure on President Barack Obama to invoke what founding father Alexander Hamilton called “the benign prerogative,” and grant Johnson a posthumous presidential pardon. Congressional requests for the pardon have passed both the House and Senate. The measures have been sponsored by Senator John McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee and a one-time amateur boxer, and U.S. Representative Peter T. King, a New York Republican who spars and trains in his free time. The House resolution says that Obama should “expunge from the annals of American criminal justice a racially-motivated abuse of the prosecutorial authority.” McCain and King began their efforts while George W. Bush was president; Obama hasn’t yet responded. Johnson, born in 1878 to former slaves in Galveston, Texas, died in a car crash in 1946 at age 68. Documentary-maker Ken Burns said of Johnson: “For more than 13 years, Jack Johnson was the most famous and the most notorious African American on Earth.” He flouted societal conventions of the time for consorting with white women (all three of his wives were white, including the first one, who committed suicide). Johnson was arrested in 1912 and convicted the following year under the federal Mann Act, which prohibits the transporting of women across state lines for “immoral purposes.” King and McCain say Johnson was singled out because of his carousing with white women, many of them prostitutes, and because three years earlier he had defeated “The Great White Hope,” the former undefeated champion James Jeffries. Race riots broke out across the U.S. after Johnson successfully defended the title against Jeffries on July 4, 1910. Wrangling a presidential pardon, however, isn’t as cut and dry as it might first appear. For one thing, Obama has in large measure avoided issues directly relating to race. And there are critics of posthumous pardons who argue that they take up valuable time from the Justice Department that might instead be directed towards clemency requests from people who are still living. Posthumous pardons have only been used twice in presidential history, and very recently, at that: Bill Clinton was the first president to grant a pardon to a deceased person when he gave clemency to Henry Flipper, who was the first African American graduate of West Point; Flipper was court-martialed in 1881 under questionable circumstances. In 2008, George W. Bush pardoned Charles Winters, convicted of smuggling three B-17 bombers to Israel in 1948; Winters died in 1984. – Boomer