Trump considers posthumous pardon of Galveston boxer Jack Johnson

HOUSTON – Galveston native and boxer Jack Johnson has been dead since 1946, but he is on the verge of securing arguably the most significant victory of his life.

President Donald Trump said Saturday in a tweet that he is considering a posthumous pardon of the first African-American world heavyweight champion.

"Sylvester Stallone called me with the story of heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson," Trump wrote. "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 convicted of violating the federal law known as the Mann Act, for transporting his white girlfriend across state lines for "immoral" purposes.

For decades, the conviction has been viewed as retaliation against Johnson for not only defeating the “Great White Hope” Jim Jeffries in Nevada on July 4, 1910, but also for dating and marrying white women.

Former United States Attorney General Eric Holder told KPRC2’s Mario Diaz in 2016, “Jack Johnson was, no question, convicted unfairly.” 

The news of Trump considering a full pardon caught his great-great niece Lindy Haywood off guard.

“I was stunned, shocked, every word you can ever imagine," she said.

Haywood said Sunday that she embraces the president's action since it would restore Johnson’s name and allow his legacy to truly shine.

“This would erase the shame and humiliation that the family felt at having this done to him,” Haywood said. “I would like history to be rewritten.”

U.S. Sens. John McCain and Cory Booker, along with U.S. Reps. Gregory Meek and Peter King, are leading the bipartisan fight in Washington to secure a posthumous presidential pardon. It is a fight that has been waged for years, with former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a former boxer himself, also having taken a lead in the fight to secure a pardon.

The campaign is a rare one by Washington standards, considering it carries support from both sides of the aisle.

While former President George W. Bush did not grant the pardon, many felt President Barack Obama would act in the final days of his administration in 2017. Obama failed to right what is viewed by many as a stain on the nation’s history.  

Haywood said she felt let down by Obama's lack of action, since there were similar history-making parallels in their lives.

“I was very disappointed and I would even go as far to say I was hurt," Haywood said. "I was hurt because I really thought he would do it.” 

Haywood said she hopes to join Trump for a formal pardon presentation if Johnson indeed gets his federal conviction overturned.

“I would hope that I would be there when this is done at the White House,” she said. 

Posthumous presidential pardons are extremely rare. The act of granting a pardon is routinely made through a simple announcement by the Department of Justice. 

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