President Donald Trump admitted Saturday that he was considering giving a “full pardon” for deceased heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson.
Trump said in a Tweet that Sylvester Stallone, the star and creator of “Rocky,” had contacted him regarding the situation, detailing Johnson’s life story and ultimate conviction.
According to TownHall, Johnson was “wrongfully convicted” in 1913 for taking his girlfriend, who was said to be both white and a minor, across state lines for “immoral purposes.”
The conviction from the court had occurred under the “Mann Act,” a law whose purpose was to crack down on human trafficking although it wound up merely targeting numerous African-American men.
By 2016, Senators Harry Reid and John McCain wrote a letter petitioning former President Barack Obama to give Johnson a posthumous pardon — to no avail.
“Jack Johnson should receive a posthumous pardon to expunge a racially motivated abuse of the prosecutorial authority of the Federal Government … and in recognition of the athletic and cultural contributions of Jack Johnson to society,” the senators wrote in a letter.
“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,” they added.
After failing to get Johnson pardoned by Obama, the senators wrote a similar letter to Trump in March of 2017, with New Jersey Sen. Corey Booker joining them.
“Jack Johnson is a boxing legend and pioneer whose reputation was wrongly tarnished by a racially motivated conviction more than a century ago,” McCain wrote.
“Despite this resolution passing both chambers of Congress several times in recent years, no pardon has been issued to date,” he added. “I hope President Trump will seize the opportunity before him to right this historical wrong and restore a great athlete’s legacy.”
Johnson, born to parents who had been former slaves, eventually made history by becoming the first African-American man to earn the title of heavyweight boxing champion of the world.
Though officials were at first hesitant to give Johnson a shot at the heavyweight title due to his race, by 1908, Johnson fought Canadian champion Tommy Burns. Johnson won the fight and the heavyweight title with a technical knockout of Burns in the 14th round.
Described as a “powerhouse,” Johnson quickly rose to notoriety and wealth. But his image was destroyed after he was convicted by the court in 1910.
Johnson ended up fleeing the country and continued his career in boxing overseas. He eventually returned to the U.S. after several years and surrendered to federal authorities.
In less than two hours, he was convicted by an all-white jury and sentenced to a year in prison — essentially destroying Johnson’s career.
Johnson died in a car crash in 1946, though his story has been immortalized in works such as the play (and eventual film) “The Great White Hope” and the 2004 documentary “Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson,” which chronicled the boxer’s life.
Johnson’s great-great niece, Linda E. Haywood, has made frequent requests for a posthumous pardon to correct Johnson’s past.
“Knowing that he was treated unfairly, and unfairly convicted and targeted because of his choice of companions, who happened to be Caucasian, that’s wrong,” Haywood said.
“The last thing you want to do is die and have your name tarnished. That’s wrong. You don’t want it to be tarnished if you’re living.”
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