Donald Trump Considering Posthumous Pardon to Boxer Jack Johnson

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured ColumnistApril 22, 2018

FILE - In this 1932 file photo, boxer Jack Johnson, the first black world heavyweight champion, poses in New York City.  Black athletes have been finding a way to fight for social change for more than 100 years, from Jack Johnson, to Muhammad Ali to Kaepernick. (AP Photo/File)
Uncredited/Associated Press

President Donald Trump said he is considering a full pardon for boxing star Jack Johnson, who died in 1946.

Trump tweeted the following on Saturday:

According to Jennifer Hansler of CNN.com, Johnson "was convicted in 1913 under the Mann Act for taking his white girlfriend across state lines for 'immoral' purposes. The Mann Act purported to prevent human trafficking for the purpose of prostitution, but critics have argued it was applied inconsistently to criminalize African Americans and those with dissenting political views."

Johnson was convicted by an all-white jury but spent seven years as an exiled fugitive in Europe before turning himself in and serving a year in prison. 

There have been past efforts to see Johnson pardoned. In 2016, Senators Harry Reid and John McCain and U.S. Reps. Peter King and Gregory Meeks sought a pardon. In 2017, Senator Cory Booker joined those efforts.

"Despite this resolution passing both chambers of Congress several times in recent years, no pardon has been issued to date," McCain said in a statement in 2016, per Hansler. "I hope President Trump will seize the opportunity before him to right this historical wrong and restore a great athlete's legacy."

Johnson became the heavyweight champion in 1908 after defeating Tommy Burns. In Jim Crow America, a black man winning the heavyweight title was unprecedented, and Johnson beat a series of white boxers in the ensuing years, including defeating previously undefeated heavyweight champion James J. Jeffries.

But while Johnson's victories alone earned the ire of racist white Americans, he "also refused to adhere to societal norms, living lavishly and brazenly and dating outside of his race in a time when whites often killed African-Americans without fear of legal repercussions," according to the Associated Press (via SI.com).

As the Ken Burns documentary, Unforgivable Blackness, noted, "For more than 13 years, Jack Johnson was the most famous, and the most notorious, African-American on Earth."

But it was his conviction in 1913 that ended his boxing career and unfairly tarnished his reputation for years to come.

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