The first ever African-American heavyweight boxing champion, Jack Johnson, may finally receive a pardon nearly 100 years after the alleged crime was committed.
Unless you are a boxing history buff, or alive in the early 1900s, you probably haven’t heard of Jack Johnson — until now.
May 24 — UPDATE: President Donald Trump has issued a pardon for the late boxer. For more details on his crime and a brief history of Johnson see below.
Who is Jack Johnson?
Johnson, who went by the fight name “Galveston Giant,” became the first-ever African-American heavyweight boxing champion in 1908. He held that title until 1915 and his fight with James J. Jeffries was considered by many to be the fight of the century (the outcome of which cause race riots throughout the country). Though Johnson wasn’t officially recognized as a world champion until 1908 he won his first title in 1903 when he defeated Denver Ed Martin via points in a 20-round match for the World Colored Heavyweight Championship.
What crime did he commit?
Johnson was world champion at the height of the Jim Crow law era thus became a target for police. In 1912 Johnson was arrested for driving his white girlfriend across state lines “for immoral acts,” which violated the Mann Act which made the act a felony. He was sentenced to one year and a day in prison by an all-white jury despite the fact that the evidence used to convict him happened prior to the Mann Act being made a law.
According to the NY Post, The law was often used as a way to railroad black men dating white women, and has been denounced in the decades since as an instrument of racism.
Johnson and his girlfriend (who would later become his wife) jumped bail and lived in exile for more than seven years before he returned to the states to serve his time.
Johnson died in 1946.
Why is this being brought up now?
The historic boxer’s name has been in the news again recently due to a tweet from President Donald Trump which indicates that he’s considering pardoning the late athlete’s crimes.
This is not the first time a Presidental pardon has been requested on behalf of Johnson. Both President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama were sent letters on his behalf but did not follow through with the pardon.
If Johnson is finally pardoned this could prove a step in the right direction for the Trump presidency which has been under fire since day one.
Trump has yet to pardon anyone but Obama pardoned 212 people, out of nearly 3,400 applications, which is less than most presidents in the last several decades according to qz.com.