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Cowan joins effort to pardon boxing great Jack Johnson

An undated file photo showing Jack Johnson.

AP

An undated file photo showing Jack Johnson.

WASHINGTON — He was the first African-American world heavyweight boxing champion, nicknamed the “Galveston Giant” after his hometown in Texas. But even John Arthur “Jack” Johnson could not fight against the racism of his time when in 1913, he was wrongly convicted on charges of human trafficking for bringing his girlfriend, who was white, across state lines.

On Tuesday a bipartisan coalition of congressmen, including Senator William “Mo” Cowan of Massachusetts, introduced a resolution calling for President Obama to posthumously pardon Johnson.

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“Jack Johnson was one of the great African-American athletes. His skill and perseverance to get back up every time he was knocked down made him a champion in the eyes of the sports world and for those who, like him, pursued their dreams despite racial intolerance,” Cowan said.

Johnson, subject of the 1970 film “The Great White Hope,” in which James Earl Jones played him, earned his heavyweight title in 1908. His boxing success, and defeat of white opponents, sparked race riots.

The son of former slaves, Johnson disdained racist rules, openly flaunting his wealth and dating white women. He was convicted of violating the Mann Act, enacted to prevent prostitution across state lines, for his travels with a former girlfriend. Sentenced to a year in prison, Johnson skipped bail and fled to Europe, and then Cuba, where he lost his title in 1915. He returned to the United States in 1920 and served his sentence, his career and reputation in tatters. He died in a car crash in 1946 at age 68.

Cowan signed onto the resolution to posthumously pardon Johnson’s “racially motivated conviction” joining Senators John McCain, an Arizona Republican, and Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, and Representative Peter King, a New York Republican. Cowan said he has seen “Great White Hope” and is a fan of James Earl Jones.McCain and King, both lifelong boxing fans, have introduced legislation to pardon Johnson since 2004.

“In past years, both chambers of Congress unanimously passed this resolution, but unfortunately, it still awaits executive action and no pardon has been issued,” McCain said in a written statement. “We can never completely right the wrong perpetrated against Jack Johnson during his lifetime, but this pardon is a small, meaningful step toward acknowledging his mistreatment before the law and celebrating his legacy of athletic greatness and historical significance.”

When Congress passed an earlier version of the resolution in 2009, the Obama administration said at the time that the White House does not issue posthumous pardons.

Military leaders questioned on sexual assault case

WASHINGTON — Senators demanded answers on Tuesday from senior military leaders on why an Air Force commander dismissed charges against a lieutenant colonel after he was convicted of sexual assault.

“Do you really think that after a jury has found someone guilty, and dismissed someone from the military for sexual assault, that one person, over the advice of their legal counselor, should be able to say, ‘Never mind’?” Senator Claire McCaskill, Democrat of Missouri, asked Marine Corps General James Mattis, the top officer at US Central Command, at a Senate hearing.

Mattis explained that commanders, including female commanders, have the authority to act for a reason. “And I would just tell you that I would look beyond one case,” he said.

McCaskill sent a letter to Air Force officials seeking an explanation while Senator Barbara Boxer, Democrat of California, and Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat, wrote to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel asking him to review the case.

The Air Force Times reported last month that Lieutenant Colonel James Wilkerson, a former inspector general at Aviano Air Base in Italy, had been convicted on Nov. 2 on charges of abusive sexual contact, aggravated sexual assault, and three instances of conduct unbecoming of an officer and a gentleman. The incident had involved a civilian employee.

Wilkerson was sentenced to a year in prison and dismissal from the service. But Lieutenant General Craig Franklin, the commander of Third Air Force, later dismissed the charges. The Air Force Times reported that Franklin concluded that the evidence was insufficient.

White House tours canceled as budget cuts take effect

WASHINGTON — No more sightings of first dog Bo?

The Obama administration is canceling tours of the White House beginning Saturday, citing staffing reductions prompted by automatic budget cuts.

The White House is a popular destination for tourists, especially during spring break.

Callers to the Visitors Office information line are told that tours already planned will not be rescheduled.

Officials said the cancellations would not affect the Easter Egg Roll on April 1.

The automatic spending cuts are hitting a myriad of accounts from the Pentagon to education grants.

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