President Donald Trump grants posthumous pardon for former heavyweight champion Jack Johnson

Anthony Cocks

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More than 100 years after being found guilty of violating the Mann Act in what is widely-regarded as racially-motivated charge, US President Donald Trump has pardoned former heavyweight champion of the world Jack Johnson.

Johnson, the first African American heavyweight boxing champion of the world, was convicted in June 2013 of “transporting women across state lines for immoral purposes” and sentenced to a year and a day in prison. Johnson skipped bail and left the country, living in exile for seven years before returning home in July 1920. He was sent to Leavenworth penitentiary in Kansas to serve out his sentence in September 1920 and was released on 9 July 1921.

”I am taking this very righteous step, I believe, to correct a wrong that occurred in our history and to honour a truly legendary boxing champion,” said Trump on Thursday.

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Joining him at the Oval Office ceremony were WBC heavyweight titleholder Deontay Wilder, former undisputed heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis and actor and International Boxing Hall of Fame inductee Sylvester Stallone, whom Trump has credited with championing the pardon.

Lewis revealed that Johnson had been an inspiration to him throughout his career, while Stallone said the character of Apollo Creed in his popular “Rocky” films was based on Johnson.

“This has been a long time coming,” said the actor.

Last month Trump tweeted that longtime friend Stallone had spoken to him about Johnson’s story and the need for a presidential pardon.

”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!” Trump tweeted at the time.

The son of former slaves, Johnson shook up the sporting world by defeating Canadian world champion Tommy Burns for the heavyweight title in Sydney, Australia on Boxing Day in 1908. In an era when blacks and whites rarely sharing the same ring – there was even a “coloured” world championship at the time – Johnson was forced to face a string of “great white hopes” who were determined to win back the championship to restore glory to the white race. The outspoken, swaggering Johnson was an early symbol of black equality in America.

Johnson made his final ring appearance at the remarkable age of 67. He passed away in June 1946 in North Carolina after sustaining injuries in a car crash.


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