Jack Johnson, heavyweight boxer from Galveston, granted posthumous pardon
WASHINGTON – Former boxing heavyweight champion and Galveston native Jack Johnson has been dead for nearly 72 years and the man, who was known as the “Galveston Giant,” is the recipient of a rare posthumous presidential pardon.
Johnson, the first black heavyweight champion of the world, scored the biggest victory of his life.
The pardon is long overdue in the eyes of many congressional leaders, members of the boxing community and Johnson’s family.
In 1913, Johnson was convicted for violating the Mann Act. The law was created in 1910, during the height of Johnson’s professional achievement. It was viewed then, and now, as a law crafted to target Johnson.
Johnson’s crime at the time: Prosecutors said the former champ took a woman across state lines for immoral purposes. The woman was his girlfriend.
While Johnson's opponents never had a chance in the boxing ring, Johnson never had a chance once he walked into the courtroom.
The true reasons as to why Johnson was pursued by federal prosecutors can be found inside and outside the ring. Johnson not only defeated white champions, including “The Great White Hope” Jim Jeffries on July 4, 1910, he also dated white women.
Following what has been widely viewed as a racially motivated conviction, Johnson fled the country in to live exile and fought overseas.
He was never the same fighter.
In 1915, he lost his title to Jess Willard in Havana, Cuba. By 1920, his prime years in the ring were gone. Johnson returned to the United States and turned himself in to authorities.
Nearly seven years after being convicted, Johnson served less than a year at the federal prison in Leavenworth, Kansas.
For years there has been a bipartisan campaign on Capitol Hill to right this historical injustice. In the Senate, Republican John McCain partnered with Democrats, including former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and current Senator Cory Booker. In the House, two New York representatives, Republican Peter King and Democrat Gregory Meeks, collaborated to help clear Johnson’s name.
In December of 2016, members of the Congressional Black Caucus wrote a letter to President Barack Obama calling for a pardon of Johnson. However, Obama failed to grant the pardon over his final days in office.
Johnson’s case experienced a reversal of fortune on April 21, 2018. Following a phone call with Sylvester Stallone, Trump tweeted, “Sylvester Stallone called me with the story of heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson. His trials and tribulations were great, his life complex and controversial,” the president wrote, “Others have looked at this over the years, most thought it would be done, but yes, I am considering a full pardon!”
Sylvester Stallone called me with the story of heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson. 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!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 21, 2018
Now, a little more than one month later, “The Galveston Giant” no longer has a stain on his legacy.
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