Michael Rosenthal

McCain to announce resolution to pardon Jack Johnson

U.S. Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) has called a news conference for Wednesday to announce a resolution to posthumously pardon boxer Jack Johnson. Johnson’s great niece, Linda Haywood, will join McCain and Representative Peter King (R-N.Y.) for the event in Washington D.C.

The U.S. House of Representatives recommended in October that Johnson receive the pardon because he was “wronged by a racially motivated conviction prompted by his success in the boxing ring and his relationships with white women,” the House resolution stated.

Johnson, heavyweight champion from 1908 to 1915, was convicted in 1913 on trumped up charges of violating the Mann Act, an obscure law prohibiting the transportation of women across state lines for immoral purposes. Federal authorities based their case on the fact he helped a former lover by wiring her money for train fare from Pittsburgh to Chicago and helping her set up a brothel.

Even then, many doubted the legitimacy of Johnson’s 1913 conviction.

“It was a silly piece of legislation aimed at commercialized vice,” historian and Johnson biographer Randy Roberts said in October. “The (U.S.) attorney general even said this wasn’t what the law was meant to do, but it was the only thing they could get him on, so he said go ahead and do it. It was an absolute injustice that came down to racism.”

Before he could be taken into custody, Johnson fled the United States and lived the next seven years in Europe and Mexico. It was during that period, in 1915, that he lost his title to Jess Willard in Havana, Cuba.

In 1920, apparently homesick, he surrendered to American authorities and served a year in prison. Johnson lived another 26 years, continuing to fight occasionally into his 50s and once when he was 60. He also maintained contact with the family he sorely missed during his exile.

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