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A resolution urging President Barack Obama to grant a posthumous pardon to the late heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson has been introduced in the U.S. Senate by Senators Harry Reid, D-Nev., and John McCain, R-Ariz.
A companion resolution was introduced in the House of Representatives by U.S. Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y.
Johnson, the first black heavyweight champion who held the crown from 1908 to 1915, was convicted in 1913 under the Mann Act for transporting a white woman (who later became his wife) across state lines for “immoral purposes.”
“Johnson was a true champion whose name was tarnished by an unjust and racially motivated criminal conviction,” Reid said in a statement. “Now is the time to restore his legacy. Jack Johnson deserves to be remembered for his incredible career, not for the racism that unfairly sent him to prison.”
Congress has passed multiple resolutions and appealed to Presidents George W. Bush and Obama to grant a pardon, but neither has acted on those resolutions.
“Despite this resolution passing both chambers of Congress several times in recent years, no pardon has been issued to date,” McCain said. “I am proud to join Senator Reid once again to urge President Obama to issue a posthumous pardon for Jack Johnson, which mark a significant step toward righting this historical wrong and restoring this great athlete’s legacy.”
Johnson’s most famous fight was held July 4, 1910 in Reno. Retired champion James Jeffries was reluctantly lured from retirement to battle Johnson in an arena built off East Fourth Street. Johnson easily won the fight.
He spent a year in federal prison after being convicted of violating the Mann Act.
A book titled “Unforgivable Blackness,” later turned into a documentary by filmmaker Ken Burns, detailed the racial hatred Johnson faced during his career.