President Donald Trump claims he may actually pardon Jack Johnson after 105 years — the first African-American world heavyweight boxing champion who was convicted in 1913 for driving his white girlfriend across state lines.
Trump said actor Sylvester Stallone – who played the boxer Rocky in several hit movies — is urging Trump to pardon Johnson posthumously.
“Sylvester Stallone called me with the story of heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson,” Trump tweeted. “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!”
Trump has a penchant for lying and making decisions on the fly without giving his White House advisors a heads up. Who knows if Trump is serious about pardoning Johnson.
Still, the fact that Trump says he is considering a full pardon for Johnson, a boxing legend known as the “Galveston Giant,” is certainly noteworthy – and long overdue.
Trump has an opportunity to right a historic wrong and return dignity to Johnson and his family years after his death. Johnson earned his place in boxing history but white law enforcement officers conspired to strip Johnson of his legitimate boxing legacy.
Johnson was railroaded by an all-white jury during the Jim Crow era. He was convicted by the Mann Act, which was designed to prevent prostitution and human trafficking for “immoral purposes,” but the law, some argued correctly, targeted Black men unfairly. He was sentenced to one year in jail and the conviction ultimately ruined his boxing career.
Many of Johnson’s advocates have argued that Johnson should not have been arrested, charged and convicted under the Mann Act for simply traveling with his girlfriend. But in 1913, Black men seen with white women were often beaten and lynched.
Johnson was certainly a controversial figure. He defeated James Jeffries in 1910 in what was dubbed “The Fight of the Century.” After Johnson won the fight, race riots erupted across the country as whites were angry that Jeffries was beaten by a Black man.
Three years later, Johnson was convicted under the Mann Act and many advocates and historians believe Johnson was punished solely for beating Jeffries. It’s important to note that Johnson’s alleged crime took place before the legislation for the Mann Act was passed.
Johnson was also scandalous in his personal life during the Jim Crow era. He was married three times and all of his wives were white. The media criticized Johnson for what they perceived as flamboyant behavior with his white women.
“For more than 13 years, Jack Johnson was the most famous, and the most notorious, African-American on Earth,” Ken Burns said his documentary, “Unforgivable Blackness.”
Over the past few years, there have been other efforts to urge a pardon for Johnson. In 2016, Senators Harry Reid and John McCain and U.S. Reps. Peter King and Gregory Meeks pushed for a pardon. And in 2017, Sen. Cory Booker joined the crusade.
“Despite this resolution passing both chambers of Congress several times in recent years, no pardon has been issued to date,” McCain said in a statement in 2016. “I hope President Trump will seize the opportunity before him to right this historical wrong and restore a great athlete’s legacy.”
So today, Trump has a chance to set the historical record straight. Trump hasn’t shown that he understands much about history, social justice or civil rights, but perhaps Stallone can finally encourage Trump to do what’s right.
Whatever is motivating Trump, Johnson, arguably a complex man during complex racial times, deserves his pardon after more than a century.
What do you think?
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