And Still Champion

Galveston’s Jack Johnson was the first black man to wear boxing’s heavyweight crown—and white America has never forgiven him for it. A presidential pardon for a trumped-up crime would right a century-old wrong.

WHILE RESEARCHING A HISTORY of Galveston in the late eighties, I came across an abstract sculpture in a small park on Seawall Boulevard. Its steel spirals were a representation of Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight champion of the world. The sculpture was perforated with small round holes that had to have been made by bullets. Someone had deliberately tried to destroy it. I knew the story of how Johnson had won the championship in 1908: He had battered the reigning titleholder—a cocky, loudmouthed, money-hungry Canadian named Tommy Burns—so savagely that the final moments of the newsreel footage of the fight were cut to protect the public from the spectacle of a white man getting knocked silly by a black man. White America never forgave Johnson for that victory. Standing by the statue, looking at those bullet holes, I realized that that hatred

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