U.S. Senate passes amendment urging pardon for boxer Jack Johnson

Thursday July 16th, 2015

The U.S. Senate passed an amendment Thursday urging for a presidential pardon for heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson.

The amendment was introduced by Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Harry Reid (D-NV), pushing for a posthumous pardon for Johnson, the first African-American heavyweight champion, for an unjust conviction in 1913. Johnson was charged with transporting a white woman across state lines, a violation of the Mann Act, which made it a crime to transport a person between states for the purposes of prostitution.

“Jack Johnson is a boxing legend and pioneer whose reputation was wrongly tarnished by a racially-motivated conviction more than a century ago,” said McCain in a release. “While this resolution has passed both chambers of Congress several times in recent years, President Obama has refused to take action even though the practice of issuing posthumous pardons has clear precedent. I thank Senator Reid for his continued partnership on this issue and urge the House to send the resolution to the President’s desk. It’s past time for our country to right this historical wrong and restore this great athlete’s legacy.”

Johnson famously defeated Tommy Burns in Australia in 1908 to become the world heavyweight boxing champion, and in the years that followed he became one of the world's most prominent fighters. In 1915, Johnson brought a woman whom he was dating across state lines. The ruling in his case is believed to have been racially charged, and the conviction destroyed Johnson's career and reputation.

“I’m pleased that Senator McCain and I have secured passage of this resolution that corrects a historical injustice,” said Reid in the same release. “Jack Johnson was the greatest athlete of his time, a trailblazer for African-Americans and had his life and legacy tarnished by a racially motivated criminal conviction. As we have done for years, Senator McCain and I will continue to fight to restore his legacy and ensure that Jack Johnson is remembered for what he was, an incredible boxer sent to prison by an unfair system. I hope the President will pardon Jack Johnson and repair the legacy of this great man.”

- Jeremy Woo

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