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Sulaimán talks Jack Johnson


April 8, 2013 – Mexico City.

From the office of WBC President Dr. José Sulaimán: A couple of years ago, the WBC made a request to President Barack Obama and the United States Congress to pardon the late Jack Johnson, the first black boxer to become a heavyweight champion. Johnson was sentenced to prison in 1912 for having a relationship with a white woman, allegedly violating the Mann Act. A clearly racist judge and an all-white people jury let all the weight of injustice fall on him, while sending a lesson to all Americans, as stated by the judge in his sentence.

Johnson had won the title in 1908 in Australia from the champion Tommy Burns of Canada. Burns made the highest purse ever at the time of $30,000 Dollars. Four years later, Jack was in jail. After such a sentence the invincible champion, a son of slaves who had been recently freed, paid the “fianza” and found asylum in Europe and further on in Mexico.

He was out of the ring for two years, but under the promise of coming back to America and being free, he fought and lost his title by K.O. against Jess Willard. The problem and big question came when a photo was printed in the papers with Jack Johnson on the canvas covering his eyes from the burning sun with his right arm, as you can see in the photo in this column, an authentic embarrassment for the racial discrimination power of those past years.

There had been seven years without anybody being able to touch the title of the Galveston Giant, Jack Johnson, a champion who was simply unbeatable. He was known to go to celebrations with beautiful white ladies, which offended the society of those years. Jim Jeffries, a great champion who had retired unbeaten, decided to come back and take the title from the hated Jack Johnson while giving him a beating. The black golden giant defeated Jeffries sending the past hero back to retirement. This fight produced racial agitation in different urban places of the USA, leaving more than a dozen deaths.

Jack Johnson became my idol by knowing his life when he was killed in a car accident in 1946, one year before I went to the USA for my college studies. There were very few flights at the time, and their fares were not for common students like me. I took the Greyhound bus from Laredo, Texas all the way to Michigan and Massachusetts. I have never been able to forget seeing black people being forced by law to ride back on the bus, a law and a custom that was abominable, disgusting, despicable. That experience, many times repeated, made me vomit.That experience and the happenings to the great Jack Johnson made me deeply hate racial discrimination. I had never known it in my country Mexico, where black people were sports heroes, coming mainly from the USA and Cuba.

That unwavering feeling of disgust made me take my first decision, when I was elected president of the WBC for the first time in Tunisia, to expel from the WBC the country of South Africa until racial discrimination was eliminated from the constitution of that country.

Jack Johnson is the idol of Muhammad Ali. He told me so, years ago. Both of them my idols. We at the WBC will be trying again to kindly request from President Obama his approval for a pardon for the great Jack Johnson, one of the greatest black sports heroes of all time, who was so unjustifiably sentenced by a biased discriminating court for the mere fact that a black man would have a relationship with a white lady, whom he later married and had her with him to the end of his life.

Thank you so very much for reading my thoughts

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