President Trump on Thursday granted a posthumous pardon to Jack Johnson, boxing’s first black heavyweight champion, after being urged to do so by “Rocky” star Sylvester Stallone.
Johnson, born in Galveston, Texas, was the target of racial resentment, particularly after he defeated white boxer James Jeffries in the 1910 “Fight of the Century,” a bout that sparked race riots.
Three years later, he was convicted by an all-white jury of violating the Mann Act, which made it illegal to transport a woman across state lines for “immoral” purposes.
In their efforts to prosecute Johnson, authorities first targeted Johnson’s relationship with the woman in question, Lucille Cameron, who later became his wife, but she refused to cooperate.
But they found another white witness, Belle Schreiber, to testify against him. Johnson fled the country after his conviction, but he agreed years later to return and serve a 10-month jail sentence. He died in 1946.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has been calling for a pardon for Johnson since 2004, and criticized President Barack Obama for leaving office in 2017 without having granted one. Former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., had also called for a pardon.
“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,” McCain said in a statement in January 2017.
Stallone, as well as Johnson’s great-great niece, had urged Trump to pardon him and in April Trump said that Stallone had called him about it.
Sylvester Stallone called me with the story of heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson. His trials and tribulations were great, his life complex and controversial. Others have looked at this over the years, most thought it would be done, but yes, I am considering a Full Pardon!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 21, 2018
“[Johnson’s] trials and tribulations were great, his life complex and controversial,” Trump tweeted. “Others have looked at this over the years, most thought it would be done, but yes, I am considering a Full Pardon!”
Stallone was in the Oval Office as a guest when Trump pardoned Johnson on Thursday.
Posthumous pardons are rare, but not unprecedented. President Bill Clinton pardoned Henry O. Flipper, the first African-American officer to lead the Buffalo Soldiers of the 10th Cavalry Regiment during the Civil War; he was framed for embezzlement. President George W. Bush in 2008 pardoned Charles Winters, an American volunteer in the Arab-Israeli War convicted of violating the U.S. Neutrality Acts in 1949.