President Donald Trump issued a presidential pardon on Thursday to the late boxer Jack Johnson, an African-American convicted a century ago for the crime of taking women across state lines. This move, says Trump, will help to correct a wrong in American history.
According to Reuters, the heavyweight champion was arrested in 1912 with Lucille Cameron, a white woman who later became his wife. He was accused of violating the Mann Act, a law that had been passed two years earlier in response to a mortality campaign.
Fox News reports that Trump's posthumous pardon to Jack Johnson was strongly suggested by "Rocky" star Sylvester Stallone.
"Sylvester Stallone called me with the story of heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson," said President Trump in April 2018. "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!"
Johnson was born in Galveston, Texas and was the target of much racial resentment, especially after he defeated the white boxer James Jeffries in 1910. Three years later, he was convicted by an all-white jury. In their effort to prosecute Johnson, authorities first targeted Johnson's relationship with the woman in question, Lucille Cameron, who at the time refused to cooperate.
Soon thereafter, they found another white witness to testify against him. In order to avoid going to jail unjustly, Johnson fled the country. Years later he agreed to return to the country and serve a 10-month jail sentence. He then died in 1946.
President Obama was also asked to pardon Johnson, most notably by Senator John McCain, who has been calling for a pardon for Johnson for over a decade. Former Majority Leader Harry Reid had also been calling for a pardon. In 2017, when President Obama left office, he was criticized by people in both parties for not granting the pardon.
“Johnson’s imprisonment forced him into the shadows of bigotry and prejudice, and continues to stand as a shameful stain on our nation’s history,” McCain said, according to Fox News.
Fox adds that posthumous pardons are very rare, although not unprecedented.
President Bill Clinton, for example, pardoned Henry O. Flipper, the first African-American officer to lead the Buffalo Soldier of the 10th Cavalry Regiment during the Civil War. Afterward, Flipper was framed for embezzlement. President George W. Bush also pardoned Charles Winters in 2008, an American volunteer in the Arab-Israeli War who was convicted of violating the U.S. Neutrality Acts in the 1940s.
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