Trump Issues Rare Posthumous Pardon to Legendary Boxer

May 24, 2018 Updated: September 27, 2018    

President Donald Trump issued a rare posthumous pardon to boxer Jack Johnson on Thursday.

Johnson’s career was destroyed after he was prosecuted and imprisoned on racially motivated charges.

Boxers, historians, academics, and politicians have pushed for a pardon for Johnson for 14 years. In April, Trump said he is considering a full pardon after speaking with Sylvester Stallone.

“Sylvester Stallone called me with the story of heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson. His trials and tribulations were great, his life complex and controversial,” Trump wrote on Twitter in April. “Others have looked at this over the years, most thought it would be done, but yes, I am considering a Full Pardon!”

Johnson’s pardon is the third posthumous pardon issued in U.S. history.

Johnson defeated James Jeffries, a white boxer, in a major boxing match in 1910. The fight’s outcome led to race riots.

In the aftermath of the fight, authorities targeted Johnson for prosecution. He was convicted of violating the Mann Act in 1913 by an all-white jury. The Mann Act prohibits transporting women across state lines for “immoral” purposes.

Jack Johnson, right, of the USA, world heavyweight title holder since 1908, in action against Jess Willard of the USA at Havana, Cuba in 1915. Willard took the title with a knock-out in the 26th round and held onto it until 1919. (Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

The authorities first tried to target Lucille Cameron who later became Johnson’s wife. Cameron did not cooperate. The authorities then found another white witness, Belle Schreiber, who testified against Johnson. After his conviction, Johnson fled the country. Years later, he agreed to come back to serve a 10-month sentence.

15th February 1924: American boxer, Jack Johnson (1878-1946) with his wife. (Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)
The US boxer Jack Johnson, (1878 – 1946), training. (Keystone/Getty Images)

The jury convicted Johnson in less than two hours. The conviction ruined Johnson’s career.

In 2016, a bipartisan group of lawmakers petitioned then-President Barack Obama to pardon Johnson. The group sent a letter to the White House asking for a posthumous pardon to honor the 70th anniversary of Johnson’s death.

“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,” the letter said, according to CNN.

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