President Trump Pardons Jack Johnson

By Robert Ecksel on May 24, 2018
President Trump Pardons Jack Johnson
The verdict hounded him from the ring to Leavenworth to the White House. (Getty Images)

It took no less a man than Donald Trump to bring this strange and bitter low-hanging fruit to fruition…

For those who like their symbolism served cold, President Donald J. Trump granted former heavyweight champion of the world Jack Johnson a posthumous pardon today.

In an Oval Office ceremony surrounded Deontay Wilder, Lennox Lewis, Sylvester Stallone, and Mauricio Sulaiman, the President said this about Johnson: “He overcame these difficult circumstances to reach the heights of boxing and the boxing world and inspired generations with his tenacity and independent spirit. I believe that Jack Johnson is a very worthy person to receive a full pardon, and in this case, a posthumous pardon, so I am taking this very righteous step, I believe, to correct a wrong that occurred in our history and to honor a truly legendary boxing champion.”

Johnson was convicted by an all-white jury of transporting a white woman across state lines for “debauchery or any other immoral purpose” a century ago. Using the little-known and little-used Mann Act (or White Slave Traffic Act) to teach the “uppity” boxer a lesson, the affair was a blot on the judiciary, a slap in the face of miscegenation, and it hounded Johnson from the ring to Leavenworth all the way to the White House.

The idea of pardoning Jack Johnson has been floated for many years, yet never lost currency. Perhaps because Johnson’s sentence was more egregious than his offense, perhaps because Johnson was no longer around to smile “that golden smile” in the face of his inferiors, it took no less a man than Donald Trump to bring this strange and bitter low-hanging fruit to fruition.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who is fighting brain cancer and has forbidden Trump to attend his funeral, has been calling for a pardon for Jack Johnson since 2004.

“Johnson’s imprisonment forced him into the shadows of bigotry and prejudice,” McCain said in a statement in January 2017, “and continues to stand as a shameful stain on our nation’s history.”

Ken Burns, whose magisterial “Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson” resurrected Johnson for a new generation in 2004, applauded McCain for his inside game.

“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 in a statement. “The pardon announced today helps correct an injustice experienced by Jack Johnson. But it also reminds us of a racist past and how even today racist remarks and coded words are used to imperil African Americans, especially Black men, and to advance an Un-American agenda.”

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

Discuss this in our forums

Related Articles


This is a place to express and/or debate your boxing views. It is not a place to offend anyone. If we feel comments are offensive, the post will be deleted and continuing offenders will be blocked from the site. Please keep it clean and civil! We want to have fun. We want some salty language and good-natured exchanges. But let's keep our punches above the belt...
  1. Kid Blast 01:02pm, 05/31/2018

    nicolas , good stuff mate

  2. nicolas 11:26am, 05/30/2018

    Yes, he was not this nice guy. Also he was really no civil rights leader. He said that when he was champion he would never give another black man a shot at the title, though the contest against Jim Johnson in France was supposed to have been. the feeling by many historians I think is that if Johnson had given Langford a shot at the title past 1910, Langford might have. won. He also did not give any support for black fighters later on in his career, being I believe mostly disparaging.

  3. Ollie Downtown Brown 03:43pm, 05/29/2018

    Stallone, himself, was mentioned in yet another #MeToo case thingie a month or two ago. If I remember right, Stallone and his bodyguard were accused of having sex with a then 16 year old girl in a Las Vegas hotel in 1986. According to the accuser, Stallone and his bodyguard had threatened to beat her if she told anyone of the encounter. I guess this falls under, “Believe It Or Not.” I would sure hate to find out that this was true. I mean of all people, “Rocky?”

  4. Kid Blast 07:36am, 05/29/2018

    nicolas , GOOD POINT but what JJ did was some pretty dark stuff, This member of society (me) has never pardoned him nor would I. Great man in the ring—yes! Great man outside of the ring—Absolutely not unless you count suicides, brothels, lack of remorse, and female abuse “great.” Just my opinion but the hypocrisy on this one goes way too far and requires serious peeling of the onion

  5. nicolas 05:05am, 05/29/2018

    My pardon is not a literal one. What it means that what got Johnson arrested, and for the people who in this time and age knew what he got arrested for was ridiculous and unjust. In the 1960’s, I guess the loving case where the supreme court overturned a lower court ruling regarding that relationship, for me was the true pardon of Jack Johnson, and the repudiation of such ridiculous laws. Also if I have read my history corrected, when Johnson returned to the USA to face the charges and sentence, his time in prison was far more comfortable that most prisoners, black or white had to face. Even had I think his own personal cook, and even training facilities I believe.

  6. Hot sauce 03:04am, 05/29/2018

    Nicolas, when did society pardon Jack Johnson? When he was working in the Flea Circus in Times Square? Your supposition is ridiculous.

  7. nicolas 04:40pm, 05/28/2018

    Fine that Trump signed it. But even from McCain and Trump it is an empty gesture. Society I would suggest pardoned Jack Johnson a long time ago, and that is what mattered most.

  8. Hot sauce 10:34pm, 05/25/2018

    I don’t understand Peters logic: We have Senator John McCain to thank for this more than President Trump. I hope people realize this.

    If that the case why didn’t Busch or Obama sign it? If Trump did not sign it there would be no pardon. Peter, there is no logic to your statement.

  9. Ollie Downtown Brown 07:50am, 05/25/2018

    Kind of arrogant of McCain to assume that Trump was going to even attend his funeral in the first place. These guys are so out of touch with reality.

  10. Peter 06:19pm, 05/24/2018

    We have Senator John McCain to thank for this more than President Trump. I hope people realize this.

  11. Ollie Downtown Brown 04:42pm, 05/24/2018

    Nice to know that Trump is putting “America First” by tackling issues like this and building an embassy in Jerusalem.  After all, these two issues were on the top of mine and a lot of other MAGA voter’s to do list for our President of the United States to jump on once in office. I will say the guy is doing wonders with the economy though, everywhere I look, “Now Hiring” signs. “Trumpolini” gets an overall mark of a C- for his first 16 months. Attending funerals are largely ‘symbolic” as well, especially among politicians. Why have love for someone when they are dead, when you despised them when they were alive? Little late to spread the love. This pardon surely isn’t doing Jack Johnson much good now either, so why bring it up? Maybe it makes the aging Sly Stallone still relevant?  Okay, * cue the usual.”  Time for the usual band of Trump haters.

Leave a comment