Boxing champ Johnson gets posthumous pardon

President Donald Trump center posthumous pardons Jack Johnson boxing's first black heavyweight champion during an event in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington Thursday

The first black heavyweight boxing champion, Jack Johnson, who fought for the title in Las Vegas, N.M., more than a century ago and was an anathema to much of white America, was posthumously pardoned Thursday by President Donald Trump, absolving the champ of his 1913 Mann Act conviction. The actor, best known for portraying boxer Rocky Balboa, called Trump urging him to grant the pardon. Burns documented the fighter's life in Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson.

Not to be confused with the Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman or the acoustic singer of the same name, Johnson was once deemed, by filmmaker Ken Burns, "the most notorious African-American on Earth". He died in a auto accident in 1946 at the age of 68.

Long before that, Johnson already established himself not only as the polarizing subject of the Mann Act violation but, even more prominently, as a champion of the black community due to his tremendous success inside the squared circle.

Not only was Johnson the first black man to win the heavyweight world championship, but he also was the rare black man of his era who was brash, ostentatious and unapologetic about his wealth and success.

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Johnson's 1910 "Fight of the Century" against James J. Jeffries inspired the play-turned-movie The Great White Hope.

"I did not realize and know he was my uncle until I was 12 years old because of the shame that the family carried, and a lot of them took it to their graves", said Linda E. Haywood, Johnson's great-great niece. The Texas native fled the country after his conviction, but later returned to serve a ten-month jail sentence. John McCain, R-Arizona, and former Sen. Johnson served almost a year in prison from 1920-21 on the federal charge.

I'm just so happy that Senator John McCain, who has led our efforts to achieve a posthumous pardon for Jack Johnson, has lived to witness this moment. "It's about time", Trump said during the ceremony in the Oval Office. A few months earlier, Hart had beaten Johnson in a 20-round decision, one of several nontitle bouts Johnson had with white boxers. Former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., had also called for a pardon.

The pardon comes after Johnson's great-great niece had been pushing for a posthumous pardon. In 1998, Bill Clinton pardoned Lt. Henry Ossian Flipper, who was born into slavery and always maintained his innocence after being convicted of conduct unbecoming an officer in 1881. So far, there's been no indication that any of his pardons have gone through the standard procedure through the Justice Department's Office of the Pardon Attorney, which evaluates requests for pardons and clemency and makes recommendations to the president.

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