Today, President Trump has issued a posthumous pardon of Jack Johnson, the first African American heavyweight boxing champion, more than a century after he was convicted under federal law for having relationships with white women.
Johnson was arrested under the Mann Act, a law which made it illegal to ‘transport women across state lines for moral purposes,’ on two occasions for the having ongoing relationships with two white women who were alleged to be prostitutes by authorities. He was eventually convicted by an all-white jury in the courtroom of future baseball commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis and sentenced to a year and a day in prison.
Following his conviction, Johnson actually skipped bail and lived abroad for seven years before eventually returning to surrender to authorities and serve his sentence.
His arrest and conviction are largely viewed as unjust and racially motivated as a measure of revenge for his status as an outspoken African American celebrity in the Jim Crow Era. President Trump said he issued the pardon after it was brought to his attention by Sylvester Stallone, who was present at the signing ceremony along with some members of Johnson’s family..
For those that aren’t familiar with Johnson’s accomplishments in the ring, he was an athlete ahead of his time who physically dominated the majority of his over matched opponents. Johnson’s 1910 fight against Jim Jeffries was hyped as ‘The Fight of the Century’ and was essentially boxing’s first mega fight. Here’s some video of him in action.