WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Saturday said he is considering granting a full pardon to boxer Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight champion, who was convicted in 1913, during the era of enforced segregation, of having sex with a white woman.
Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) have campaigned for Johnson’s pardon for more than a decade, and even passed a resolution for it in Congress. But the effort stalled after the Justice Department advised the policy is not to grant posthumous pardons.
King said he hadn’t brought it up with Trump — President Barack Obama turned down the request — but the actor who wrote the scripts and played Rocky Balboa in a series of seven boxing movies did in a telephone call. And Trump responded.
“Sylvester Stallone called me with the story of heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson. His trials and tribulations were great, his life complex and controversial,” Trump tweeted Saturday afternoon. “Others have looked at this over the years, most thought it would be done, but yes, I am considering a Full Pardon!”
Johnson rose to fame at the height of Jim Crow laws in the early 1900s that enforced racial segregation. He endured racial hatred from white boxers and fans, and stirred calls for a “Great White Hope” after he beat white boxer Tommy Burns for the heavyweight title in 1908.
A flamboyant man, Johnson openly dated white women, leading to his conviction and one-year prison sentence for violating the Mann Act for taking a white woman across state lines. At the time, his actions were termed a “crime against nature.”
“It would be great recognition and a correction of injustice if President Trump granted the pardon of Jack Johnson,” King said Saturday.