We had expected about this time to be writing a wholly different editorial about President Barack Obama and prizefighter Jack Johnson.
We had expected that before he left the White House, Obama would heed the urging of Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican, and Sen. Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, along with that of numerous rank-and-file Americans and grant a posthumous pardon to Johnson, a Galveston native and the island’s most famous son.
“The Galveston Giant” 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 the day after Christmas 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.
Johnson lived in exile for a while but returned and served time in prison.
We’ve been arguing for years that the country owes Jack Johnson a pardon.
We’ve not been alone in that.
McCain and Reid have been lobbying for Johnson’s pardon for years.
Congress last year passed Every Student Succeeds Act with a resolution urging President Obama to pardon Johnson.
The resolution showed the White House there’s support in Congress for the pardon. The President never acted on the resolution, however.
Obama pardoned many people, well more than 100, while he was in office.
Some of the pardoned had been convicted of some pretty serious crimes, among them money laundering; abetting bank fraud; counterfeiting; wire fraud; making and distributing methamphetamine, heroin and cocaine; and armed bank robbery.
We’ll accept for the sake of argument that each person benefiting from this presidential action deserved to be freed, but we argue that none of them deserved a pardon more than Johnson does.
What Johnson’s conviction demonstrated is what we’ve always known in this country: A government can break an individual just because it has more power.
A pardon would have demonstrated another truth about this country: While it often wobbles and staggers, it tends toward justice for all.
We had hoped the president was saving Jack Johnson’s pardon for last; that perhaps he planned to make an especially big deal of it.
We suppose there’s still an outside chance of that, as this piece hits the stands on the morning of the last day of our first African-American president’s tenure, although it seems very unlikely.
What we expect now is to witness the bafflement of this president leaving office with Johnson’s pardon not done. That’s a shame.
• Michael A. Smith