Washington, D.C. – Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and Representative Peter King (R-NY) today introduced a resolution to pardon the first African American heavyweight boxing champion, John Arthur “Jack” Johnson. The legislation calls on the President to posthumously pardon the boxing legend, who was wronged with a racially motivated conviction in 1913 under the Mann Act, which prohibited taking women across state lines for “immoral purposes.” The bill is introduced in celebration of the heavyweight’s birthday, which was yesterday March 31st.
“This resolution to pardon Jack Johnson would not right this injustice, but it would recognize it, and shed light on the achievements of an athlete who was forced into the shadows of bigotry and prejudice,” said Senator John McCain. “Taking such actions would allow future generations to grasp fully what Jack Johnson accomplished against great odds and appreciate his contributions to society unencumbered by the taint of his criminal conviction.”
“Jack Johnson was a trailblazer in the sport of boxing, who became a victim of the times with a wrongly-placed, racially motivated conviction,” said Congressman Pete King. “Despite the accusations, he became a heavyweight legend who inspired and paved the way for future African American athletes. It has now been over 100 years since Jack Johnson won the heavyweight title, and it’s time we restore his reputation with a pardon that is long over-due.”
Jack Johnson was born in Galveston, Texas on March 31, 1878. In 1908, Jack Johnson 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, racially motivated convictions imprisoned Jack Johnson for a year in 1913. The convictions ruined his career and destroyed his reputation.
McCain and King are both life-long boxing fans, and King trains at a boxing gym on Long Island where he spars at least once a week. Both have been introducing legislation to pardon Jack Johnson since 2004.