Jack Johnson’s great-great niece Linda Haywood (L) joined Deontay Wilder, Keith Frankel, Sylvester Stallone and Lennox Lewis as President Donald Trump pardoned the legendary boxer. (AP)[/caption] President Donald Trump, who is hardly a champion of rights for African-Americans and other racial minorities, has pardoned former heavyweight champion Jack Johnson. An African-American who is among the greatest heavyweight boxers of all time, Johnson was convicted by an all-white jury in 1913 of violating the Mann Act, which was enacted in 1910 and made it a felony to transport a woman across state lines for “immoral purposes.” His conviction was a glaring miscarriage of justice and many, notably Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and filmmaker Ken Burns, have championed Johnson’s cause and pushed for a pardon. Congress passed a resolution in 2015 calling for Johnson’s pardon, but President Obama didn’t sign it. Eric Holder, who was President Obama’s attorney general from 2009 through 2015, told WPIX in New York in 2016 that allegations of domestic violence against Johnson made him difficult to pardon. “Jack Johnson no question was convicted unfairly,” Holder told WPIX. “That might be a historical injustice that might need to be rethought.” But Holder then brought up the domestic violence issue, noting, “There are on the other side countervailing concerns about the way [Johnson] treated women, physically treated women. So all of this has to be balanced before this president or his successor would make a determination that a pardon is appropriate.”
The pardon was many years late, and unfortunate that it didn’t happen during Johnson’s lifetime. Johnson, who fought exhibition matches until he was 67, died in 1946 in Franklinton, North Carolina. He left a diner that refused to serve him because of his race and died in an auto accident as he was leaving town.
Ali was only 4 when Johnson died, but referred to Johnson as “The Greatest,” in several interviews.
Trump’s decision is as welcome as it was unexpected. While posthumous presidential pardons are rare – Johnson’s is only the third ever – it was a stain on this country that needed to be removed.
It was largely symbolic, and there are scores of unfairly convicted minorities sitting in jails who could desperately use a pardon who will never get it.
That should never be forgotten, even as Trump’s signature on the pardon papers should be celebrated.]]>