Press Releases

Washington, D.C – U.S. Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) this week reintroduced a resolution in the Senate urging the President to issue a posthumous pardon for the first African American heavyweight boxing champion, John Arthur “Jack” Johnson, for his racially charged conviction in 1913. Johnson’s career and reputation were ruined after he was charged with transporting a white woman across state lines in violation of the Mann Act. Representatives Peter King (R-NY) and Gregory Meeks (D-NY) introduced a companion resolution in the House of Representatives. 

“Jack Johnson is a boxing legend and pioneer whose reputation was wrongly tarnished by a racially motivated conviction more than a century ago,” said Senator McCain. “Despite this resolution passing both chambers of Congress several times in recent years, no pardon has been issued to date. I hope President Trump will seize the opportunity before him to right this historical wrong and restore a great athlete’s legacy.”

“Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight boxing champion, was a historic force and cultural icon during the days of Jim Crow whose life and career were maligned by the systemic discrimination that led to his racially motivated conviction in 1913,” said Senator Booker. “This resolution encourages the president to issue a posthumous pardon for Jack because it is far past time that we honor his legacy and his life with the integrity and dignity he deserved, but was so forcefully denied, over a century ago.” 

“Jack Johnson is a trailblazer and a legend, whose boxing career was cut short due to unjust laws and racial persecution,” said Congressman King. “Since 2004, Sen. McCain and I have urged Congress and the President to issue a posthumous pardon. It is a sad moment in history that transcends sports and it is my hope that President Trump will right this wrong with the support of the Congress.”

“Jack Johnson challenged racism throughout his storied career and in his personal life. He confronted the status quo and forever changed the sport of boxing by becoming the first African-American Heavyweight Boxing Champion. In doing so, Johnson inspired generations of boxers and African Americans and paved the way for greats like Joe Louis and Muhammad Ali,” Congressman Gregory W. Meeks said. “As we honor Jack Johnson and continue to be motivated by his ground-breaking accomplishments, we have to ensure that his memory is not tarnished by a racially-motivated charge that was unfairly leveled against him based solely on who he loved.” 

As a life-long boxing fan, Senator McCain has been introducing legislation in the Senate urging the President to pardon Jack Johnson since 2004. A resolution urging a posthumous pardon was unanimously approved by both the House and Senate in the 114th Congress, as well as the 111th Congress, the first time since 1974 that both chambers passed a concurrent resolution calling for a posthumous pardon of an individual. Additionally, the resolution passed the House in the 110th Congress and passed the Senate in the 108th and 113th Congresses. 

Jack Johnson was born in Galveston, Texas on March 31, 1878 and in 1908, he became the first African American World Heavyweight Boxing Champion after defeating Tommy Burns in Australia – a title Johnson held until 1915. Prompted by his success in the boxing ring and his relationship with a Caucasian woman, Jack Johnson was wrongly convicted under the Mann Act when he brought the woman he was dating across state lines. The intent of the Mann Act was to prevent human trafficking of women for the purpose of prostitution. However, this racially-motivated 1913 conviction imprisoned Jack Johnson for a year. The conviction ruined his career and destroyed his reputation. 

American Presidents have issued posthumous pardons in the past. In 1999, President Clinton pardoned Henry O. Flipper, the first African American to graduate from West Point and first African American officer to lead the Buffalo Soldiers of the 10th Cavalry Regiment during the Civil War, who was later dismissed from the Army for racially charged allegations. In 2008, President Bush pardoned Charles Winters, an American volunteer in the Arab-Israeli War who was convicted of violating the U.S. Neutrality Acts in 1949 after he helped to transfer two B-17 “Flying Fortresses” in an effort to aid the Jewish peoples’ effort to establish the state of Israel. 

The text of the resolution is here.

###