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

Contact Editor Michael A. Smith at 409-683-5206 or michael.smith@galvnews.com.​

(32) comments

Carlos Ponce

"In a letter to Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., the Justice Department's pardon attorney, Ronald L. Rodgers, said it is general policy not to process posthumous pardon requests. The letter was in response to one King and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., had sent to the president. "
See "Justice Department Won't Recommend Posthumous Pardon for Nation's First Black Boxing Champ"

Carlos Ponce

There is precedent for a president to grant a posthumous pardon.
"The first posthumous pardon in the United States was granted by President Bill Clinton. In 1999, he posthumously pardoned Henry O. Flipper, who was born into slavery and became the first black American cadet to graduate from West Point. The U.S. Army's first black officer, Flipper was charged with embezzling Army funds and steadfastly maintained that he had been framed. Although he was acquitted of those charges, he was still court-martialed and dishonorably discharged in 1881 for 'conduct unbecoming an officer.' "
So Justice Department's pardon attorney, Ronald L. Rodgers' claim is without merit. What else did we expect from Obama's Department of In-Justice? INEPT !

Jarvis Buckley

Obama let the folks of Galveston down, his last time.
It's a new day today🌞

David Smith

I read 1100 pardons.. the most of any president.. oh well.. what do you expect?

Doyle Beard

Well over 100 Michael, how about many hundreds.you can get closer than over 100.
Jack Johnson was not on his agenda, letting people out of prison was his goal. Shame on him. Mr. Johnson should have been at the top of the list.

George Croix

The convicted drug criminals and at least one traitor and one bomber/terrorist....so far.... still time to pardon/commute more......fit the outgoing POTUS ideology more than a boxer from a century ago....

No doubt the future victims of these folks are thankful.....

Carlos Ponce

Don't forget the Gitmo detainees. Muslim terrorists take priority.

Curtiss Brown

No terrorist has been pardoned or sentence modified.

George Croix

Nope...that is not correct, unless one considers this FALN bomber to not be a terrorist....which would require more stretch than Gumby......


The dozens of Gitmo terror detainees released might...might...qualify also as having their their sentence modified....

Carlos Ponce

"No terrorist has been pardoned or sentence modified. " Technically correct but in fact incorrect. Expect to find them shortly on the battlefield.

George Croix

The people who will die as a result of the releases get first choice in not forgetting them.....

Curtiss Brown

Not reporting in this editorial that posthumous pardons are not the norm is a serious reporting flaw in my opinion. The editorial is not telling the whole truth and that is bad for our community.

Jim Forsythe

On at least 20 occasions in American history, posthumous pardons,
involving 107 individuals, 12 of them executed, have been granted

Curtiss Brown

Did not know this.

Of course, this request was coming from Texas. Texas has not exactly been one of Obama's favorite places to bless.

Gary Scoggin

I fail to see the drama in this. Jack Johnson doesn't care anymore. I fail to see the relevance in whether or not he's pardoned.

Curtiss Brown

Must be relevant to somebody, Gary. I guess you'd have to walk a mile in their shoes or see it from their point of view, or some other empathetic type procedure. You may not wish to do this, but it might help.

George Croix

Lack of a pardon is called a 'shame' today.
Wonder what it will be called in four years if still not issued?

Cary Semar

It is not too late. Perhaps POTUS 45 can take care of this piece of unfinished business. It would be a nice gesture.

Jack Cross

Curtis, No terrorist has been pardoned or sentence modified ??? Curtis I fail to see your point, if you are assuming that Obama used good judgement by not pardoning dangerous criminals.
Have you forgotten about the 5 worst terrorist that Obama swapped for the trader Sgt. Bergdoff. Whats the different, they were in prison and because of Obama they are out.

George Croix

I'm hoping we make some progress in the first half of this century before we spend time on the first half of the last century.....

Pat Hallisey

It appears to me an atrocity is just that. Injustice is wrong no matter when or why!

If President Obama who should understand this issue, then let's move on and ask if the new President understands better because injustice affects us all!

Jack Reeves

I am absolutely appalled at President Obama's lack of regard for the memory and contributions of Jack Johnson to sports history and racial equality in general. I guess the memory of a Texas hero was not important enough for him to consider.I hope we all remember this should any of his compatriots decide to run in the future.

Jim Forsythe

Trump , can do it today.

PD Hyatt

Trump has enough on his hands right now undoing all of the unjustice that the fool Obama has done to this nation!

Dan Freeman

While Mr. Obama could and should have pardoned Jack Johnson, he is no where near the leading pardoner. Andrew Johnson pardoned over 7,000 Confederate leaders: http://www.ushistory.org/us/35a.asp . He subsequently granted "Full Pardon and Amnesty for the Offense of Treason Against the United States During the Late Civil War."
Here is the Proclamation: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=72360

More recently, Jimmy Carter pardoned over 200,000 Vietnam draft evaders.

Carlos Ponce

Have you read the terms of surrender? The pardon of the Confederates were part of those terms:
"General R.E. Lee,
Commanding C.S.A.
April 9,1865,

General; In accordance with the substance of my letter to you of the 8th inst., I propose to receive the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia on the following terms, to wit: Rolls of all officers and men to be made in duplicate, one copy to be given to an officer to be designated by me, the other to be retained by such officer or officers as you may designate. The officers to give their individual paroles not to take up arms against the Government of the United States until properly [exchanged], and each company or regimental commander to sign a like parole for the men of their commands. The arms, artillery, and public property to be parked, and stacked, and turned over to the officers appointed by me to receive them. This will not embrace the side-arms of the officers, nor their private horses or baggage. This done, each officer and man will be allowed to return to his home, not to be disturbed by the United States authorities so long as they observe their paroles, and the laws in force where they may reside.

Very respectfully,
U.S. Grant,


Dan Freeman

The word pardon is not in the terms of surrender. A parole is not a pardon. General Grant recognized that only the President could grant a pardon.

On an unrelated note: A moving account of the surrender is given by Joshua L. Chamberlain, Passing of the Armies: The momentous meaning of this occasion impressed me deeply. I resolved to mark it by some token of recognition, which could be no other than a salute of arms. Well aware of the responsibility assumed, and of the criticisms that would follow, as the sequel proved, nothing of that kind could move me in the least. The act could be defended, if needful, by the suggestion that such a salute was not to the cause for which the flag of the Confederacy stood, but to its going down before the flag of the Union. My main reason, however, was one for which I sought no authority nor asked forgiveness. Before us in proud humiliation stood the embodiment of manhood: men whom neither toils and sufferings, nor the fact of death, nor disaster, nor hopelessness could bend from their resolve; standing before us now, thin, worn, and famished, but erect, and with eyes looking level into ours, waking memories that bound us together as no other bond;—was not such manhood to be welcomed back into a Union so tested and assured? Instructions had been given; and when the head of each division column comes opposite our group, our bugle sounds the signal and instantly our whole line from right to left, regiment by regiment in succession, gives the soldier's salutation, from the "order arms" to the old "carry"—the marching salute. {John Brown} Gordon at the head of the column, riding with heavy spirit and downcast face, catches the sound of shifting arms, looks up, and, taking the meaning, wheels superbly, making with himself and his horse one uplifted figure, with profound salutation as he drops the point of his sword to the boot toe; then facing to his own command, gives word for his successive brigades to pass us with the same position of the manual,—honor answering honor. On our part not a sound of trumpet more, nor roll of drum; not a cheer, nor word nor whisper of vain-glorying, nor motion of man standing again at the order, but an awed stillness rather, and breath-holding, as if it were the passing of the dead! Pp 195-196

Carlos Ponce

Parole in MODERN terms means a supervised released.
" This done, each officer and man will be allowed to return to his home, not to be disturbed by the United States authorities so long as they observe their paroles, and the laws in force where they may reside."
This may not use the term "pardon" but it was treated as such since they were "not to be disturbed by the United States authorities".
And remember the times: no ankle bracelets with built in locators, no parole officers. Even if one former Confederate did get in trouble all he had to do was lose himself in the west, assume a new identity and no one would know his Civil War allegiance. Or he could leave the country. Old westerns (Gunsmoke, The Rebel, Bonanza, etc) are filled with fictionalized tales of such which have their basis in reality.
De juri not a pardon, de facto it was tantamount to a pardon.

Jim Forsythe

Mr. Obama could  have pardoned Jack Johnson, but he's not the only one that did not.
There have been recurring proposals to grant Johnson a posthumous presidential pardon. A bill requesting President George W. Bush to pardon Johnson in 2008, passed the House, but failed to pass in the Senate.
Mr Bush could have pardon him, at that time.

Randy Chapman

Who cares!! They guy wasn't a saint, and he's still dead.

Jay Ewend

"Would you say President Obama did not pardon Jack Johnson because the boxer is African-American? Inane." Carlos Ponce

Mr. Smith, WHY didn't the Senate? Maybe we should gather all the facts, before we pass judgement. SIR, You had your chance… ALL TALK NO ACTION!

Carlos Ponce

Sorry Jay, only the president on the Federal level can grant pardons. It is not a power granted to either House in Congress.
Article 2 Section 2 Clause 1
1: The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States; he may require the Opinion, in writing, of the principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any Subject relating to the Duties of their respective Offices, and he shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.

See "Pardon Me? A Congressional Pardon?"
As the article explains the measure would have to be passed by both Houses and then sent to the president for his signature. In other words it would ultimately be a Presidential Pardon.

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