Why President Trump Is Pardoning Boxer Jack Johnson 71 Years After His Death

April 22, 2018, 4:27 PM UTC

President Donald Trump is considering a full, posthumous pardon for Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight boxing champion, who was convicted of racially tinged federal morals charges more than a century ago.

“ Sylvester Stallone called me with the story of heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson,” Trump said Saturday on Twitter. “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!”

Stallone, who played Rocky Balboa in the “Rocky” movies, is one of many people over the decades who’ve sought a pardon for Johnson, who died in 1946. Johnson was heavyweight champion from 1908 to 1915, a reign that included his knockout in 1910 of the so-called Great White Hope, former champion James J. Jeffries, which prompted race riots in dozens of U.S. cities.

Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, has led an effort since 2004, with the Senate and House at various times passing resolutions urging a pardon for the Galveston, Texas, born fighter.

“Jack Johnson’s reputation was ruined by a racially motivated conviction more than a century ago after he was charged with transporting a white woman across state lines,” McCain said in 2017 as he unsuccessfully urged President Barack Obama to issue a pardon on his way out of office. McCain called Johnson’s conviction “a symbol of racial injustice” and “a shameful stain on our nation’s history.”

A relative of Jack Johnson has also been leading an effort to get Trump to grant a pardon, the Associated Press reported.

Trump’s previous pardons include Scooter Libby, former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, and former Maricopa County, Arizona, Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

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