Thanks in part to a call from “Rocky” actor Sylvester Stallone last month, President Donald Trump granted a posthumous pardon to boxer Jack Johnson.
“Today I’ve issued an executive grant of clemency, a full pardon, posthumously, to John Arthur ‘Jack’ Johnson, the first African-American heavyweight champion of the world. A truly great fighter,” said President Trump. “He had a tough life.”
Joining Trump in the Oval Office for the pardon was Stallone, current heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder, former heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis, and others, including Johnson’s great-great niece, Linda Haywood.
“We have done something today that was very important because we righted a wrong,” said Trump. “Jack Johnson was not treated fairly, and we have corrected that, and I’m very honored to have done it.”
Johnson was born in Galveston, Texas, in 1878 to former slaves. His success in the boxing ring made him the target for many white spectators during fights with white boxers, especially during America’s Jim Crow era.
In 1910, Johnson defeated white boxer James Jeffries in a fifteen round “Fight of the Century” in Reno, Nevada for the world heavyweight title, a fight that sparked race riots.
Three years later, Johnson was convicted of by an all-white jury for violating the Mann Act by taking his white girlfriend, who later became his wife, across state lines. Johnson died in 1946.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has called for Johnson's pardon since 2004 and criticized President Barack Obama for never granting the pardon. “Despite this resolution passing both chambers of Congress several times in recent years, no pardon has been issued to date. Johnson’s imprisonment forced him into the shadows of bigotry and prejudice, and continues to stand as a shameful stain on our nation’s history,” said McCain.
Johnson’s pardoning was also pushed by Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nevada, Sen. Cory Booker, D-New Jersey, Rep. Peter King, R-New York, and Rep. Gregory Meeks, D-New York.
The congressmen wrote a letter to the White House saying, “While it is unfortunate that this unjust conviction was not corrected during the boxer’s lifetime, a posthumous pardon today represents the opportunity to reaffirm Jack Johnson’s substantial contributions to our society and right this historical wrong.”