President Donald Trump issued a posthumous pardon Thursday to Jack Johnson, boxing’s first African-American heavyweight champion, clearing him of conviction that occurred during a period of racial tension more than a century ago.
“We righted a wrong,” Mr. Trump said during a ceremony in the Oval Office while flanked by WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder, retired heavyweight great Lennox Lewis and actor Sylvester Stallone. “Jack Johnson was not treated fairly and we have corrected that.”
Johnson was convicted in 1913 by an all-White jury of violating the Mann Act, which prohibited the transport of women across state lines for “immoral” purposes. He had been traveling with his White girlfriend at the time of his arrest.
Johnson ultimately served 10 months in federal prison for what many view as a racially motivated injustice.
He became a cause célèbre after his death, with numerous lawmakers and celebrities, including Stallone, pushing for his full pardon.
Born in 1878 in Galveston, Texas, to former slaves, Johnson became a boxing legend during the Jim Crow era, defeating Tommy Burns in 1908 for the heavyweight title and outlasting a string of “great White hopes,” including former undefeated heavyweight champion James J. Jeffries in what was billed as the “Fight of the Century” in 1910.