Two Republican members of Congress have reintroduced a resolution to pardon Jack Johnson, the first Black heavyweight-boxing champion.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Rep. Peter King (R- N.Y.) have urged President Obama to issue a posthumous pardon for Johnson, who was wrongfully convicted under the 1913 Mann Act, which outlawed the transportation of women across state lines.
Johnson dominated his White opponents in the ring, and his success stirred race riots in the early 20th century, according to PBS.org. In 1908, Johnson fought White boxer Tommy Burns and the fight was stopped in the 14th round after Burns suffered a brutal beating. With the victory, Johnson was dubbed the first Black heavyweight champ of the world.
But Johnson’s public relationships with White women angered some and, in 1912, Johnson was arrested on the grounds that his relationship with a White prostitute violated a Mann Act provision against “transporting women across state lines for immoral purposes,” despite the fact that the incidents used to convict him occurred before the Mann Act was passed. He was convicted in 1913 by an all-White jury and sentenced to a year and a day in prison.
McCain and King, both well-known boxing fans, have fought to reverse the conviction since 2004, the year they first introduced the pardon legislation, according to The Hill. McCain said that the racially motivated conviction left a bad mark in America’s history.
“A full pardon would not only shed light on the achievements of an athlete who was forced into the shadows of bigotry and prejudice, but also allow future generations to grasp fully what Jack Johnson accomplished against great odds,” added McCain.
The resolution cleared Congress in 2009, but Obama did not act on the pardon. According to The Hill, the Obama administration has not yet commented on why the president did not act on the resolution. However, the Justice Department has said that it does not process pardons for people who are dead.