President Trump has posthumously pardoned trailblazing prizefighter Jack Johnson — the country’s first black heavyweight champion.
Johnson — charged with transporting a white woman across state lines for “immoral purposes” under the controversial Mann Act in 1913 — spent a year in jail thanks to a racially-motivated conviction by an all-white jury.
“Johnson served ten months in federal prison for what many view as a racially motivated injustice,” Trump said during an Oval Office ceremony. “He was treated very rough, very tough.”
Boxers Deontay Wilder and Lennox Lewis, actor Sylvester Stallone and Johnson’s great-great niece joined Trump during the announcement.
Johnson’s case has been criticized for decades as a miscarriage of justice and a symbol of the systemic racism in the justice system.
Trump described his decision as an effort “to correct a wrong in our history.”
“He represented something that was both very beautiful and very terrible at the same time,” he said.
Johnson’s family and other advocates, including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), have petitioned the Justice Department to move forward with a pardon for Johnson for years.
But a call from Stallone spurred Trump’s interest in pardoning the pugilist.
Trump tweeted last month about the possibility of clearing the legendary champ’s name.
“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. “…I am considering a Full Pardon!”
Stallone starred in the 1976 boxing film “Rocky.”
Johnson’s prowess in the ring earned him a reputation — and a heavyweigh title.
The son of former slaves defeated Tommy Burns for the title in 1908.
His rise to fame came at a time when black and white fighters rarely entered the same ring.
Johnson dominated a series of “great white hopes” over the next two years before beating the undefeated former champion, James J. Jeffries.
His incredible athleticism, his popularity and his penchant for dating white women sparked a racist backlash that eventually led to his bogus conviction.
Johnson died in a car crash in 1946, but his life and his legend have been fodder for storytellers for decades.
Howard Sackler’s play “The Great White Hope,” starring James Earl Jones, won the Pulitzer Prize for drama and the Tony Award for best play in 1969.
A film version with Jones was released a year later.
More recently, the documentary “Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson,” directed by Ken Burns, was aired on PBS in 2004.
Burns applauded the pardon and thanked McCain, who is dealing with an aggressive form of brain cancer, for his efforts .
“It is the right thing to do. 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,” he said.