President Trump Grants Rare Posthumous Pardon to Late Boxer Jack Johnson

Ivan Schwartz
May 25, 2018

Jack Johnson/Library of Congress via Wikimedia Commons.

President Donald Trump on Thursday granted a posthumous pardon to Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight champion, more than 100 years after what many see as his racially-charged conviction.

On Thursday, Trump made that happen.

Senator John McCain, former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and filmmaker Ken Burns led the group of people that began pushing for Johnson's posthumous pardon in July 2004.

On Oct. 18, Johnson was arrested for violating the Mann Act, a law that said a person can't "transport any woman or girl" across state lines for "any immoral goal", according to History.

The conviction was transparently a punishment for Johnson's relationships with white women; he repeatedly married white women, in addition to his white girlfriends.

Following a phone call with Sylvester Stallone, Trump tweeted, "Sylvester Stallone called me with the story of heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson".

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Trump added that the call to pardon Johnson has been widely supported by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

Johnson's 1910 "Fight of the Century" against James J. Jeffries inspired the play-turned-movie The Great White Hope.

"I get stage fright", Stallone joked.

Not only was Johnson the first black man to win the heavyweight world championship, but he also was the rare black man of his era who was brash, ostentatious and unapologetic about his wealth and success. "President Trump's action today finally closes a shameful chapter in our nation's history and marks a milestone that the American people can and should be proud of".

Out on bail pending appeal of the conviction, Johnson fled the country with Cameron and continued to fight overseas, including two defenses of the world title in Paris. Linda Haywood, a woman in Chicago who traces her lineage to Johnson, also has campaigned for him for years and attended the Oval Office ceremony. At the time, it was not just a departure from convention but also risky for a black man to court a white woman, and laws against interracial marriage had not yet been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

The June 12 summit in Singapore would have been the first time a USA president had met a North Korean leader, and the planning seemed promising to many until the North insulted Vice President Mike Pence by calling him a "dummy" over his remarks about how Kim's regime should not "play" with Trump. "Others have looked at this over the years, most thought it would be done, but yes, I am considering a Full Pardon!"

After Johnson had won the heavyweight title in 1908, many in white society advocated for a white fighter to step up and win the title back. "I appreciate you rewriting history", she told Trump.

Other reports by GizPress

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