Prompted by actor Sylvester Stallone, President Trump has officially pardoned late boxing star, Jack Johnson, for a conviction for “trafficking a white woman” in 1913. Johnson, who died of unrelated causes in 1946, was originally convicted under the Mann Act, which prevented black men from transporting white women across state lines for “immoral reasons.”
• Johnson, who was America’s first black heavyweight champion and fought some of the most famous historical fights in the country, was in a relationship with Lucille Cameron at the time, and travelled with her often.
• Cameron later went on to become Johnson’s wife, but was only associated with him at the time they crossed state lines – something the couple did often throughout his career. But this particular time was different; the boxer had just fought, and successfully beat, a white boxer by the name of James Jeffries.
• Racial tensions flared after the Johnson-Jeffries fight, leading to many searching for reasons to take Johnson’s career away from him. Law enforcement officials, who we now know were operating on racial motivations themselves, sought out witnesses to prove Johnson was a criminal.
• First, they attempted to convince Cameron to testify against Johnson, attempting to lead her to accuse him of trafficking her across state lines. When she refused to cooperate, they turned to another woman, Belle Schreiber.
• Schreiber’s damning testimony was enough for police to officially charge him with violating the Mann Act, even though it was essentially her word against his. Today, such a claim would be considered hearsay.
• After his arrest, and knowing he would most likely be convicted, Johnson managed to sneak out of the country with the help of friends. He remained expatriated for many years until finally cutting a deal to serve 10 months if he returned.
• President Trump revealed that Sylvester Stallone was directly responsible for lobbying for Johnson’s pardon. He also said he feels the boxer’s life and situation was “complex” and “controversial.”
• With his decision to grant a pardon, Trump joins the ranks of other prominent politicians who believe Johnson didn’t get a fair shake, including Senator John McCain and Senator Harry Reid. Both have been calling for a full pardon since the Obama administration.