Thursday, December 15, 2005

Four Vikings Charged: A (Very) Vaguely Related History Lesson

Naughty details about the Vikings sex boat four abound in the local blogs and news. Rather than rehash anything about Daunte Culpepper's, Bryant McKinnie's, Fred Smoot's and Moe Williams's indecent conduct, with a studious avoidence of moving women across state lines for the purposes of carnal pleasures, I'd like to offer a short history about an athlete that was charged with moving women across state lines, a history that originates in Minnesota. For anyone who thinks I'm drawing a comparison, it's an extremely loose one - there are big differences between this historical tale and our local football players. It's just an opportunity to read about your local history.

From At the Hands of Persons Unknown: The Lynching of Black America by Philip Dray (pages 194-195).

"Once authorities had established a method to suppress [Jack] Johnson's movies, they geared up to go after the man himself, for his not-so-private private life was to many even more disturbing than his successes in the ring. The White Slave Traffic Act of 1910, better known as the Mann Act after its author, Representative James R. Mann of Illinois, forbade the transportation of women in interstate or foreign commerce "for the purpose of prostitution or debauchery, or for any other immoral purpose." The law was nominally aimed at commercialized vice, but was written broadly enough to make it applicable to virtually any woman other than one's lawfully wedded spouse. In 1912 the government used the newly minted statute to prosecute Johnson after a Minneapolis woman alleged that her daughter, eighteen-year-old Lucille Cameron, had been taken by Johnson to Chicago for "immoral purposes.

By the time of his arrest, most whites and even some blacks had come to hold a disapproving view of a celebrity who so fragrantly defied convention and pushed the boundaries of acceptable good taste. 'It goes to prove my contention that all men should be educated along mental and spiritual lines,' Booker T. Washington said of the trouble Johnson now found himself in, '[for] a man with muscle minus brains is a useless creature.' But it was also clear that the government was out to get Johnson as certainly as any lynch mob seeks its victim. He was burned in effigy in white neighborhoods, and cries of 'Lynch him! Lynch the nigger!' were heard whenever he appeared. Southern newspapers made no secret of their belief that the boxer should, as one put it, be 'given the hemp.' His 'obnoxious stunts,' commented the Beaumont, Texas, Journal, 'are not only worth of but demand an overgrown dose of Southern 'hospitality.'

Johnson seemed unfazed by the ridicule; indeed, he was probably the first black man in America with the power and stature to consciously goad whites with behavior deemed 'lynchable.' Confronted with his legal difficulties, he stood defiant: 'I want to say that I am not a slave and that I have the right to choose who my mate shall be without the dictation of any man. I have eyes and I have a heart, and when they fail to tell me who I shall have for mine I want to be put away in a lunatic asylum.'"

Note that Jack Johnson later married Lucille Cameron, at which point the government found an ex-girlfriend to testify against him and Johnson had to leave for self-imposed exile abroad.

1 comment:

Smartie said...

As I finally got around to saying in my post on the subject, I think the comparison is more apt than you are making it out to be.

I'm not one to cry 'racism' frequently, but something about these charges is certainly strange. The problem is that the amount of celebrity and money involved in the case is so large that it warps the fabric of the whole situation. As with the OJ case, that makes it exceedingly difficult to sort out the particulars of what actually happened versus sensationalism. Are they guilty? Probably many of them are. Is it really an important story? Nope. Would it be such a big story (or legal case) if they weren't black; celebrities; rich? Hard to say.