Donald Trump has pardoned former boxer Jack Johnson, who was imprisoned for violating a Jim Crow-era law. Here’s everything you need to know about the exonerated champion.
1. He was previously convicted under the Mann Act of 1910, which sought to prevent human trafficking for the purpose of prostitution, but in reality, it purposefully targeted interracial couples. After a white woman, who Johnson previously dated, testified against him in 1913, Johnson and his wife fled the country to escape his conviction. He was convicted by an all-white jury in under two hours. However, Johnson returned in 1920 to serve his sentence.
2. He was a boxing champion. For a long time, many white boxers refused to take on Johnson for a championship title. However, in 1908, Canadian world champion Tommy Burns accepted the challenge and the two went head-to-head as Burns sought to defend his title. In the end, Johnson emerged victorious.
3. After his title win, he faced enormous backlash from white commentators. In fact, famous writer Jack London wrote that he wanted a “great white hope” to emerge to take Johnson down.
4. His imprisonment ended his career. He faced a year in prison, but his career was effectively over when he emerged a free man. He later died in 1946.
5. His pardon had been advocated not only by Sylvester Stallone, who was with President Trump when he shared the news, but a bipartisan group of lawmakers in 2016. Then-Senator Harry Reid, Senator John McCain, and Representatives Peter King and Gregory Meeks all petitioned Barack Obama‘s White House administration for the pardon. The letter said, “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 effort was redoubled in 2017 when a resolution advocating Johnson’s pardon was reintroduced.
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