President Trump Issues Rare Posthumous Pardon For Boxing Champion Jack Johnson

World Championship fight between the reigning world champion Tommy Burns of Canada left and challenger Jack Johnson in front of 20,000 spectators at Rushcutters Bay near Sydney in 1908

Trump was joined at the ceremony by boxer Lennox Lewis and "Rocky" star Sylvester Stallone, who made the appeal for the pardon in a phone call to the president.

Johnson was sentenced to a year in prison, but he fled the country for several years, returning in 1920 to serve his sentence. He spent a year in federal prison and died at age 68 in a 1946 North Carolina vehicle crash speeding from a restaurant that refused him service. Like Ali, Johnson was a heavyweight champion who had uncommon speed, quickness and movement for a man who was 6-foot-1 and weighed around 210 pounds. "Had a tough life", Trump said.

Jack Johnson was a boxer best-known for his incredible record in the ring and for becoming the first African-American world heavyweight boxing champion.

Johnson got his start in professional boxing in the late 1890s, then rose to fame at the start of the 20th century when he became the first African-American fighter to claim the world heavyweight title in 1908.

Johnson, who died in 1946, was convicted by an all-white jury in Chicago in 1913 of violating the Jim Crow-era White-Slave Traffic Act, that was meant to prevent and punish human trafficking and was used on Johnson for traveling with a white woman.

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". Cameron did not cooperate with the investigation, which was prompted after Cameron's mother accused Johnson of kidnapping her daughter.

Johnson's real crime was flaunting his relationship with white women at a time where racial segregation and racial tensions were the order of the day.

The president said Johnson served prison time "for what many view as a racially motivated injustice".

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.

Johnson was convicted in June 1913, but he skipped bail and went to Montreal on June 25 where Lucille, now his wife, was waiting for him.

"For years, Congress has overwhelmingly supported legislation calling on multiple USA presidents to right this historical wrong and restore this great athlete's legacy".

"This action finally rights a historical wrong, restores a great athlete's legacy & closes a shameful chapter in our history", McCain said in a tweet.

During the ceremony, Trump could not resist taking a jab at former president Barack Obama, saying it was "very disappointing for a lot of people" that his predecessor had not pardoned Johnson. Politicians and celebrities including John McCain, Stallone and filmmaker Ken Burns advocated for his pardon.

Under the Obama administration, the Department of Justice opted not to recommend a posthumous pardon for Johnson.

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