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McCain in the Ring for Johnson

Filmmaker Ken Burns today is joining Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and boxing star Vernon Forrest in filing a petition with the Justice Department seeking a presidential pardon for the 1913 conviction that ended black boxing pioneer Jack Johnson’s career.

The former boxer, who stoked racist sentiments at the turn of the century when he emerged as a

[IMGCAP(1)] major heavyweight contender, was convicted in 1913 of violating the Mann Act, which had to do with transporting women across state lines for “immoral purposes.”

Johnson’s only “immoral” act was marrying a white woman (he married three in his lifetime), concludes Burns in his forthcoming documentary “Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson,” which is scheduled to air on PBS in January 2005. The event today is being held on behalf of the Committee to Pardon Jack Johnson.

“Between 1901 and 1910, 846 Americans were lynched. Seven hundred fifty-four of them were African American, many of whom were lynched simply for being ‘too familiar’ with white women,” according to Burns’ film company, Florentine Films.

Burns’ film tells the story of young Jack Johnson growing up in the Jim Crow-era South, learning to box in Battle Royals, a practice in which black boys were blindfolded by white men and told to fight each other bare knuckled until just one boy was left standing. From there, Johnson boxed against the machine — often fighting his own personal rage and alcoholism — to ultimately gain heavyweight champion status. (He first gained the championship when champ Jim Jeffries, who was white, refused to get in the ring with a black challenger.)

His winning streak ended when the mother of one of his white girlfriends claimed that Johnson had abducted her daughter. He was convicted in 1913 and sentenced to a year in federal prison, but Johnson fled the country.

In 1920, Johnson surrendered to authorities and served his time in prison. He was released, never boxed again and died in a car crash in North Carolina in 1946, after he was angered by a racist incident, according to Burns.

The Committee to Pardon Jack Johnson includes heavyweights — not just in boxing — but in civil rights, Hollywood and politics. They include, among others, hip-hop artist Chuck D; Harvard professor Louis Gates Jr.; world middleweight champion Bernard Hopkins; former heavyweight world champion Sugar Ray Leonard; Reps. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.), Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) and Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.); actor Samuel Jackson; former New York Mayor David Dinkins (D); former basketball star Len Elmore; and jazz musician Wynton Marsalis.

As for McCain’s involvement in the campaign to pardon Jack Johnson, the Senator, who is known to love what he calls “a brutal but proud sport,” said that pardoning Johnson “will serve as a historic testament of America’s resolve to live up to its noble ideals of justice and equality.”

Even More on Outing. Check your inbox around lunchtime if you work on the Hill. Mike Rogers, who is quickly gaining notoriety as the “gay outer” on Capitol Hill, is sending an e-mail to thousands of House and Senate staffers — straight and gay alike.

Rogers says he’s sending an e-mail today to more than 5,000 staffers across the Hill in hopes of furthering his campaign to “out” closeted gay lawmakers who support the proposed federal amendment outlawing same-sex marriage or staffers who work for Members of Congress who support the amendment.

“Like the rest of our ongoing campaign, our activists seek to educate America about the hypocrisy of our so called ‘leaders,’” Rogers said. “By educating those who work with these hypocrites, we are using the truth to bear witness to the lives of lesbians and gays everywhere.”

The e-mail to be circulated around Capitol Hill names names, but only those of gay staffers who, themselves, have already openly declared their sexual orientation.

The Newer, Leaner Ex-Prez. There was a time when former President Bill Clinton couldn’t seem to get enough Whoppers, Big Macs, french fries, fried chicken or just about any food fast and fried. But thanks to his fit-and-trim retirement and book tour plan, those days appear to be over.

Last Wednesday, when Clinton was in town for a book-signing session at the downtown Barnes & Noble Bookseller at 12th and E streets Northwest, a surprising take-out order was placed at local hot spot Ristorante Tosca, just around the corner from the book store.

Specifically requested were chicken, salads, fruit and either lemon cake or lemon cookies. “Since the staff at Tosca had heard Mr. Clinton is a fan of the South Beach diet — and the requested food items fit within the diet — Chef [Cesare] Lanfranconi came up with a South Beach-friendly menu for him,” our source tells us.

Having gotten that request with plenty of advance warning, the chef and his staff went on the Web to research the South Beach diet, then Lanfranconi made up this lunch for the former president: grilled free-range chicken with Oregon morel mushrooms; baby spinach sauteed in first cold pressed extra virgin olive oil; shaved radicchio salad with aged balsamic vinegar, candied walnuts, poached pears and imported gorgonzola cheese terrine; and seasonal fruit plate with lemon cookies, date-nut bread, lemon curd and raspberry tart.

Nice diet!

Ode to Menendez. New Jersey rock musician Tris McCall has immortalized Rep. Bob Menendez (N.J.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, in his song “Robert Menendez basta ya!”

McCall describes his album as a snapshot of his day-to-day experiences in Union City, the Menendez stronghold where the musician used to live. Part of that “urban landscape,” he says, included what he calls “Column A” (Menendez and the Hudson County Democratic Organization). Column A apparently refers to posters of Menendez plastering the neighborhood.

“At times, Palisade Avenue looked like those depictions of third-world nations where the face of the Commandant is plastered across every billboard,” McCall says. “You’d wake up one morning and the night squads would have painted the sidewalks red with Column A posters: on lampposts, car windshields, in every other window.”

It’s difficult at first as you’re hit by the rambling lyrics to figure out whether the artist, who says he has never met Menendez, actually likes his former Congressman. But then these lyrics stand out: “Robert Menendez redeems us all very lonely public servant waiting for the call roar of the engines those brakes and calipers a little too tight with the waterfront developers.”

McCall explained to HOH that the song isn’t as much about Menendez the politician as it is about the “Menendez phenomenon as a manifestation of my neighborhood’s will to make its voice heard.” McCall says most of the song is “extremely positive and optimistic, just like Union City.”

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