News came this week that John McCain plans to request that President Obama pardon Jack Johnson. Johnson, the first African American heavyweight champ of the world (1908 to 1915) was hounded out of the USA on charges of committing immoral acts basically because he had sex with a white woman. He later served a year in jail on the charge.
Jack Johnson became the world heavyweight boxing champion on December 26, 1908 at the Stadium in Rushcutters Bay, Sydney, Australia. In the mid 1990s I lived in Rushcutters Bay. The Stadium was demolished in the early 1970s to make way for a suburban rail line. In the 1964 The Beatles played there on their Australian tour. Occasionally I used to go for a beer at the Rushcutters Bay Hotel. The Hotel, also since demolished, served the working class population of the nearby area, which had diminished greatly as more and more old properties that were rooming houses were demolished for new apartments. The front bar of the pub was somewhat ill-lit and I remember being staggered on my way to the gents to discover a small corner of the bar was devoted to Jack Johnson and his memorable fight. I wish I had photographed it. I never did find out why the tribute was there, Johnson was not exactly a household name in Australia. Perhaps the pub owner was a fight fan.
The first I knew of Jack Johnson was through a piece by the writer Jack London. London renown as a socialist writer, his most famous book is either The Iron Heel or The Call of the Wild, was a racist; or in his words a white man first and a socialist second. He was in Sydney for the fight and reported on it for the Australian Star and the article also appeared in the New York Herald. Tracing that report was one of the first pieces of original research I did. London’s views made me lose my appetite for his work.