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"Jack Johnson, World's First Black Boxing Champion, was Jailed Under Jim Crow. Will He Get a Posthumous Pardon?" by Sarah Kaplan on washingtonpost.com

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So, without getting long-winded, if President Obama doesn't pardon Jack Johnson, I propose that our next President does, and everything and everyone (society, race relations, black people, white people, Mr. Johnson's descendents, and most importantly, Mr. Johnson's Legacy) will benefit the most from his pardon being issued by a white President; my only sadness is that he wouldn't be around to see it, but most great recognitions in this world occur posthumously.

I may have something more substantive to say about this, but I'd like to clarify a detail in the Washington Post article: Jack Johnson's life and career were the basis for The Great White Hope, all right, but it was originally a play by Howard Sackler that premiered at our own Arena Stage in 1967, starring James Earl Jones and Jane Alexander. I saw it during its run there. The production later moved to Broadway with the same cast. A film adaptation was released in 1970, also starring Jones and Alexander.

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I may have something more substantive to say about this, but I'd like to clarify a detail in the Washington Post article: Jack Johnson's life and career were the basis for The Great White Hope, all right, but it was originally a play by Howard Sackler that premiered at our own Arena Stage in 1967, starring James Earl Jones and Jane Alexander. I saw it during its run there. The production later moved to Broadway with the same cast. A film adaptation was released in 1970, also starring Jones and Alexander.

I too saw that play, though in New York with the same stars in the major roles, James Earl Jones and Jane Alexander.  The recollection sticks with me to this day.  Jones was remarkable, his powerful deep bass sonorous voice, his bulkiness and barrel chested size with flailing arms....what an astonishing sense of power, size, anger, frustration, and resignation.  Jane Alexander was his opposite, fragile, thin, feminine, soft.  A vivid contrast between the lovers.

Yes the play is about racism.  The piece of art showing the original Jack Johnson with halo and standing on a slave ship--that is a terrific symbolism.  The play and a subsequent film with the same stars made the book, Johnson's life, the reactions of the past more relatable to the broader public.  It was the late 60's early 70's.  Change the white woman for Mohammed Ali's conversion to Islam and his refusal to submit to the draft on religious grounds.   That old story struck a then current chord and gave it context.

Back to the play:  James Earl Jones was magnificent.  The play launched a great career.

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The Wikipedia link for "The Great White Hope" is well-worth a read, and contains some fascinating information.

As a believer in Chaos Theory, I briefly considered the possibility that had it not been for Jack Johnson, there would have been no hauntingly familiar "Darth Vader breathing sounds," but I believe that's false, as James Earl Jones had plenty under his belt by 1967, and was well on his way to superstardom regardless of this play.

Herschel, do you still have your PlayBill from the Arena Stage production? If so, want to swap it for dinner? :) I wonder just how much influence Zelda Fichandler had in the premier of "The Great White Hope" - Fichandler co-founded the Arena Stage in 1950, and was there for *decades* - she is one of the most important theatrical personalities in Washington, DC history, and if you care about theater, her name should be instant recall. Inside the National Theater, there's a huge painting of Helen Hayes, the "First Lady of American Theater" - I hope there's an equally impressive painting of Fichandler inside the new Arena Stage, because she is arguably the "First Lady of Washington, DC Theater." She is 91 years old now, and I hope she has received appropriate accolades for her career's work - if and when her time comes, there will be all sorts of fanfare, but why wait until then?

"Arena Stage Takes a Risk on 'The Great White Hope'" on arts.gov

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