Let me tell you about the strangest provision in the new education bill.

It’s going to take awhile to absorb all of the details of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). But one provision jumped out at me. It encourages the president to grant a posthumous pardon to former heavyweight champion, and Texan, (Galveston) Jack Johnson.

This has been a pet project of Senator John McCain for quite some time. He was not successful in convincing President Bush (W) to grant the pardon, but thought the odds would be better with President Obama.  Johnson was probably our nation’s most famous African American in the first decade of the 20th Century.  He was the first of many African American heavyweight champs.   Senator McCain and others assert that Johnson’s criminal conviction for transporting women across state lines for immoral purposes was really a reflection of the racism of the times.  Johnson did, indeed, travel across state lines with a woman. But she was his girlfriend.  She was also white.  It was well known that Jack Johnson enjoyed the company of white women and he made no secret of it.  Suffice it to say, this was not well received in 1913 when Johnson was convicted.

President Obama has likewise turned down this request, but now that the Congress has expressed “the sense of the Senate” that Johnson should be pardoned, perhaps it will happen.  Here is a portion of the letter that Senator McCain sent to the President:

As this law makes clear, a pardon would expunge this racially-motivated abuse of authority from our nation’s criminal justice history and affirm Jack Johnson’s athletic and cultural contributions to our society. And, as acknowledged in a recent New York Times column, “in a nation that promotes itself as the land of the free, there are few things more important than…correcting injustices like the imprisonment of Johnson.

There is a movie about Jack Johnson that I saw many years ago—“The Great White Hope,” starring a very young James Earl Jones.

Sounds like a good cause to me, but you have to wonder: how did this end up in a bill addressing federal aid to education?