Jack Johnson takes a break from training for his world heavyweight championship fight against Jim Jeffries in 1910 for a photo. Today’s is Johnson’s birthday, and a proper gift would be a presidential pardon for “The Galveston Giant.”


Today is the birthday of Jack Johnson, Galveston’s most famous native son. And it’s a good day to remind members of the Texas congressional delegation that they should be lobbying for a presidential pardon for “The Galveston Giant.”

Johnson was the first African-American to win the heavyweight boxing title. A century ago, he was shamefully convicted in an awful miscarriage of justice.

Johnson grew up on the island and learned to fight on the docks. He won the world heavyweight boxing title by defeating Tommy Burns on the day after Christmas in 1908. That victory was followed by a spree of racial violence.

Johnson couldn’t be beaten in the ring. So, the U.S. government used its resources to get him.

In 1913, Johnson was convicted of violating the Mann Act. His crime was consorting with white women. In other words, he challenged white America’s notion of the proper role of black Americans.

Johnson lived in exile for a while but returned and served time in prison.

What that demonstrated is what we’ve always known in this country: A government can break an individual just because it has more power.

There was nothing right about the conviction. There is no moral high ground in this story.

So, again this year, we make a plea for a pardon.

The Justice Department has suggested it doesn’t have the time to invest in posthumous pardons. What time the Justice Department spends in seeking justice for the dead is time not spent on seeking justice for the living.

We can see the point, but in this case it would take no investment of time and energy in figuring out what’s fair. There is no debate about what happened — and what happened is a stain on the American judicial system.

It’s time for a pardon.

Incidentally, some national political leaders — John McCain of Arizona has been the most insistent — have been urging President Barack Obama to pardon Johnson. It would be nice to see a few more Texans in that group.

(16) comments

David Smith

Wow....would you let the man RIP?
Every year we hear the same ol line...
Hes not the only person wronged in his lifetime

Evelyn Clark

Jack Johnson is a part of our Black History. We choose to honor him and other

blacks of our struggles We have always known that he is not the only person

wronged in years past. We do teach the younger generation of our trials struggles

of earlier years.

Jarvis Buckley

Heber , let's concentrate on the present. This island is going down hill so fast.
Sometimes I think you are a good man. Sometimes you remind me of a child.

George Croix

"...Galveston’s most famous native son."
More famous than George P. Mitchell?
Taking nothing away from the accomplishments of Johnson in the ring, doesn't the career and philanthropy of Mitchell's lifetime, ending not yet one year ago, rate as more noteworthy, and of greater scale, and benefitting more people of all stripes and circumstances than being a heavy weight champ did, 100 years ago?
Personally, I hope for Galveston's sake that Pres. Obama WILL give Johnson a pardon (perhaps inquiries should be made to POTUS directly as to why he has not...). In so doing, the Pres. can, with the stroke of a pen, free up the need for annual pleas by the local branch of the 4th estate and others to return to yesteryear and apply today's standards and laws to the pre-WWI era when making judgements of right and wrong.
Who knows, perhaps time can then be spent more productively finding a 'great son' that is more contemporary.
One can only imagine who that might be, though.
If a Galveston native son who lived an exemplary life full of years of great accomplishments and deeds and giving that benefitted untold millions of people can't make the top spot over a boxer, then the criteria for selection does, indeed, need to be given some further thought.

Evelyn Clark

Hi Jecroix you have a poor way of showig it. Mr Mitchell will always be a wonerful

man in my mind. He would not get on this post ,and be as rude as you have

about Mr, Johnson. You know as well as I and everyone else they are are two

different people and that besides one being WHITE and the other BLACK.

You understand what I mean. (Mr. Mitchell did bot go to jail and suffered

because of terrible rules and ways we were treated) . JUST STATEING FACTS


Dwight Burns

Righting a wrong is not a gift.

Lars Faltskog

Well, geocroix -
Was Mitchell accused, tried, convicted for a crime and had to serve prison? I think this is the proverbial "apples to oranges" concept.

Our country has typically utilized the sports heroes as "larger than life" entities. They have always been admired for their prowess and phenominal athletic feats, not unlike Superheroes. I think that approaching this in such a manner helps us understand why it's more meaningful to many to champion someone like Johnson as opposed to a businessman like Mitchell. Perhaps Mitchell will get his duly recognition in time.

I wouldn't be surprised if our President includes Johnson in his "end of office" pardons, which Presidents typically do right before they leave office.

Leonce Thierry

Thank you Heber – We should advocate for justice at all times. Those famous words in our Declaration of Independence ring rather hollow when the federal government can send someone to prison solely for loving someone of a different ethnicity. Jack Johnson was sent to federal prison for being a black man that no one could defeat in a sport mostly dominated by Europeans. The most racist caste system of Jim Crow saw fit to trump a charge to send him to prison rather than allow him to be their champion. Jack Johnson’s conviction is a 101 year stain of injustice that will continue to be visible for the world to see. Most folks could care less because they can’t imagine such an injustice impacting their personal lives in modern times. It happened 100 + years ago. So what? That seems to be the general sentiment when it comes to Jack Johnson. Thank God for folks like Senator John McCain, who are not afraid to speak truth to power and serve as a lifelong advocate for justice.

Steve Fouga

I have mixed feelings about this. I have nothing against Mr Johnson. I'm sure I would have rooted for him had I been alive at the time he was fighting white Europeans. I will always root for an American competing against a European. But has the miscarriage of justice been any more severe for him than for thousands or tens of thousands of others who violated a law that was later changed, repealed, or ignored in more progressive times?

Should we pardon ALL who violated a law that was later determined to be unjust because times had changed? Maybe so. Or maybe not, because it's a lot of work, and it's water under the bridge. On the other hand, if Jack Johnson were pardoned, we'd never have to hear about it again, and that's worth something.

To gecroix's point, I find it ironic and vaguely embarrassing that Jack Johnson IS Galveston's most famous son -- and mytoby, it's not because he's black. Jack Johnson deserves his fame, but George Mitchell deserves it more.

Leonce Thierry

What Louisville native son is more famous; Colonel Sanders or Muhammad Ali? What does it matter? This article is about advocating for a posthumous Presidential pardon.

Steve Fouga

Come on, Hank, I addressed the pardon in the first two paragraphs, and pointed out that I had mixed feelings about it. In the third paragraph, I clearly pointed out I was addressing gecroix's point. This sort of thing happens on internet forums all the time.

And I'm guessing Muhammad Ali is the more famous Louisville native son.

Lars Faltskog

Who's got "staying power" of being more famous?? Colonel Sanders! I can still go purchase and consume his fried chicken, but I can't see Ali fight in the ring anymore. Diane Sawyer is also a famous Lousiville-born person. She's still the best looking too, even at her age.

Leonce Thierry

That's just it. It's an opinion of Mr. Taylor that Jack Johnson is the most famous citizen of Galveston. I find it interesting that more than one poster on this thread took an issue with that. Jack Johnson's overall popularity is trivial. What matters is that in his storied career as a professional boxer, the full resource of the United States government saw fit to bring him up on trumped charges and a conviction so he could no longer box. Ali was treated in near identical fashion with respect to the United States selective service draft. He was left unable to earn a living for three years in what would have been the prime of his career. Ali never went to federal prison because his case raised the consciousness of a nation related to military service. Jack Johnson's posthumous redress of his career has clearly identified an even more egregious miscarriage of justice. Heber Taylor's advocacy is to be applauded. He chooses to address what a great many would rather forget. Mr. Taylor is spot on in his analysis. I applaud Mr. Taylor. Heber is not alone in his advocacy. I won't sweat the small stuff related to fame. The injustice wrought upon Jack Johnson can only be addressed by a Presidential pardon. Thank you Mr. Taylor. Thank you Senator John McCain. Thank you Congressman Peter King of New York for keeping the legacy of injustice handed down to Jack Johnson on the front burner.

Evelyn Clark

Mr. Mitchell and Mr. Johnson are two different people and are famous for two

different reason. I know in my heart it is a disgrace that BLACK people had to

dimostrate for things that should have been their rights in the first PLACE.. Now

you come uip with things about Mr. Mitchell is Galveston's famous son.No one

I know has ever said Mitchell did not deserve to be a famous son, So I still say

Mr. J. Johnson is one of my famous sons who happens to be from Galveston.

Shame on you guys . Your racism is showing, [sad] [sad]

Evelyn Clark

Jaake what are you waiting for. Go out and be an advocate get what ever you need to get more justic for Mr. Mitchell.

He surly does not need you are anybody else to speak for him. The things he
has done for Galveston, speak for him.

Your views and the likes of you speaks against any deeds done on behalf of the Blacks in Galveston and surrounding area .


George Croix

"Today is the birthday of Jack Johnson, Galveston’s most famous native son."
The author seems to think that matters...

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.