WASHINGTON - In a hard-hitting symbol of progress in race relations, the fight for a pardon of Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight boxing champion, is being taken to Barack Obama, the first black US president.
And Linda Haywood, a great-grand niece of Johnson, said a pardon for the controversial fighter from the early 1900s would mean more coming from Obama than it would have from a failed bid before former president George Bush.
"I was hoping president Bush would do it. It was sitting on his desk," said Haywood. "But it would mean so much more if Obama would do it."
In 1913, Johnson was the first person convicted under the Mann Act, which forbids taking a woman across state lines for immoral purposes. Johnson's consensual relationship with a white woman was seen then by many as taboo.
"Jack Johnson worked against a relentless tide of racism," said moviemaker Ken Burns, whose documentary on Johnson helped spur the call for a pardon. "We do this not only for Jack Johnson and his memory. We do it for ourselves."
US senator John McCain, who lost to Obama in last year's election, and Representative Peter King introduced legislation on Wednesday seeking a pardon for Johnson over a conviction now seen as racially motivated.
"We want to reverse this injustice," McCain said. "We need to erase this act of racism that sent an American citizen to prison on trumped-up charges."
McCain, who opposed a holiday for race unity pioneer Martin Luther King Jr in 1983 but has since said that was a mistake, agreed on the need for Johnson's legacy to be cleansed from bigotry and oppression. - Sapa-AFP