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GOP Rep. Behind "Great White Hope" Remark Voted For Bill With Same Phrase

First Posted: 10/16/09 06:12 AM ET Updated: 05/25/11 02:55 PM ET

Jenkins

Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-Kan.) took a bit of heat a few weeks ago for suggesting the GOP needed a "great white hope" to take on President Barack Obama in the next election.

The Kansas Republican backtracked from her remarks soon thereafter, insisting that she hadn't really understood the racial implications of the statement.

Alas, The Ottawa (Kans.) Herald finds one reason to doubt Jenkins's excuse. A month ago, the freshman lawmaker supported a resolution that included the very phrase "great white hope" in a historical context that made clear its origin.

In late July, the House of Representatives passed, by unanimous consent, a measure urging the president to pardon heavyweight champion boxer Jack Johnson, whose career brought him success in the ring and racist vitriol outside of it. Included in the resolution, which passed on July 29, was the following phrase:

"Whereas the victory by Jack Johnson over Tommy Burns prompted a search for a White boxer who could beat Jack Johnson, a recruitment effort that was dubbed the search for the 'great white hope.'"

For sports historical junkies: Johnson had to wait years to get a shot at the heavyweight title, because the top-ranked white boxers refused to fight him. Once he got the chance and defeated Burns, the boxing world went on a frantic search to find the "great white hope" to take back the title.

As Media Matters Action Network points out, one of those "great white hopes" was a boxer named Jess Willard, who actually lived just 27 miles from Jenkins' hometown of Holton, Kansas.

Johnson's fall would ultimately come when he took the gloves off. The target of racist violence, he was convicted in 1913 of violating the Mann Act against "transporting women across state lines for immoral purposes."


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