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July 21, 2019

Jack Johnson stands tall: Trump finds a black athlete to support

May 25, 2018
WASHINGTON, DC – MAY 24: A signed boxing glove lay on the sofa after US President Donald Trump signs an Executive Grant of Clemency for former heavyweight champion Jack Johnson in the Oval Office of the White House on May 24, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images) (Pool/Getty Images)

Kudos to President Trump for helping remove a century-old historical stain Thursday via a rare posthumous pardon. America’s first black heavyweight, Jack Johnson, has earned redemption.

A son of former slaves, Johnson made history by defeating Tommy Burns for the world championship in 1908. His successful title defense against Jim Jeffries two years later sparked race riots that killed dozens of African-Americans.

Alas, Johnson’s romantic life — specifically the fact that he dared date white women — ran afoul of the racial mores of the time. In 1913, an all-white jury convicted him of violating the federal Mann Act for crossing state lines with a prostitute. He fled the country for seven years before finally returning to serve a one-year-and-a-day sentence in Leavenworth.

The pardon represents a win for ailing Trump nemesis Sen. John McCain, who had lobbied the past two Presidents to clear Johnson’s name.

Any righting of an historical wrong is cause for celebration. But considering this came on the same day that Trump said athletes who don’t stand for the national anthem — black players protesting police killings of unarmed civilians — probably shouldn’t be in the country, mute your applause. He has a few things left to learn.

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