March 5, 2013
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Harry Reid (D-NV), John McCain (R-AZ), William “Mo” Cowan (D-MA) and U.S. 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.”
“Jack Johnson was a legendary competitor who defined an era of American boxing and raised the bar for all American athletics,” said Senator Reid. “Johnson’s memory was unjustly tarnished by a racially-motivated criminal conviction, and it is now time to recast his legacy. I am pleased to work with my colleagues in both the Senate and House to formally restore Johnson’s name to the full stature and dignity he deserves.”
“Since 2004, Congressman King and I have fought for a posthumous pardon of Jack Johnson, the world’s first African-American heavyweight champion, for his racially motivated conviction,” said Senator McCain. “In past years, both chambers of Congress unanimously passed this resolution, but unfortunately, it still awaits executive action and no pardon has been issued. We can never completely right the wrong perpetrated against Jack Johnson during his lifetime, but this pardon is a small, meaningful step toward acknowledging his mistreatment before the law and celebrating his legacy of athletic greatness and historical significance.”
“Jack Johnson was one of the great African-American athletes. His skill and perseverance to get back up every time he was knocked down made him a champion in the eyes of the sports world and for those who, like him, pursued their dreams despite racial intolerance,” said Senator Cowan. “I'm proud to join Senator McCain and Representative King in their effort to restore the legacy he fought so hard to achieve.”
“Jack Johnson is a trailblazer and a legend, whose boxing career was cut short due to unjust laws and racial persecution,” said Congressman King. “I urge the Congress and the President to do the right thing and take the final step and grant his pardon. I am proud to stand with Senator McCain once again to introduce this legislation.”
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, a racially motivated 1913 conviction imprisoned Jack Johnson for a year. The conviction ruined his career and destroyed his reputation.
McCain and King, both life-long boxing fans, have been introducing legislation to pardon Jack Johnson since 2004.