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Posted at: May 26, 2018, 2:02 AM; last updated: May 26, 2018, 2:02 AM (IST)

100 years on, Trump pardons boxer Johnson

First black heavyweight champion was sent to prison for relationship with a white woman
100 years on, Trump pardons boxer Johnson

Washington, May 25

US President Donald Trump issued a posthumous pardon to Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight boxing champion, who was sent to prison a century ago in a racially charged case. Trump said on Thursday that Johnson, the “Galveston Giant,” was the victim of what “many viewed as a racially motivated injustice.”  Johnson, who held the heavyweight title from 1908-15, was convicted by an all-white jury in 1913 of taking a woman across state lines for “immoral purposes.” Johnson, whose consensual relationship with a white woman was seen then by many as taboo, fled to Europe but returned in 1920 and spent a year in prison. Johnson died in a car crash in 1946 at the age of 68.

Trump signed the pardon at a ceremony in the Oval Office attended by “Rocky” actor Sylvester Stallone, current WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder and former champion Lennox Lewis. “Today as President, I've issued an executive grant of clemency, a full pardon, posthumously to John Arthur Jack Johnson,” Trump said. “The first African American heavyweight champion of the world, a truly great fighter.”  Trump said the conviction “occurred during a period of tremendous racial tension in the United States more than a century ago” and that Johnson had a “very tough life.” Senator John McCain and other members of Congress and celebrities such as Stallone, who portrayed Rocky Balboa in the movie “Rocky,” have long fought for a pardon for Johnson.

“This was very important to Sylvester Stallone, my friend for a long time,” Trump said.

Linda Haywood, a great-great niece of Johnson, also attended the White House pardon ceremony. McCain, who has been ailing as he battles brain cancer, welcomed the move. “This action finally rights a historical wrong, restores a great athlete's legacy and closes a shameful chapter in our history,” McCain said in a tweet. — AFP

Know Johnson

Johnson was born March 31, 1878, in Galveston, Texas, and went 78-8 with 12 draws and 45 knockouts. He took the heavyweight title on December 26, 1908, in Sydney. Johnson defended his crown nine times, notably in 1910 over former champion James J. Jeffries, who came out of retirement as “The Great White Hope,” in what was billed as “The Fight of the Century.”  Johnson beat Jim Flynn in 1912 in the first Las Vegas title fight, twice defended the crown in Paris, and then lost it at Havana in 1915 when Jess Willard knocked him out in the 26th round. 

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