Will President Obama Issue Posthumous Pardon for Nation's First Black Boxing Champ?

President Obama has the opportunity to lift the legacy of the nation's first African-American heavyweight boxing champion, Jack Johnson, off of the canvas.

Johnson held the prestigious heavyweight title for nearly seven years, but the toughest punch he took may have come from the nation's justice system.

Nearly a century ago, Johnson was sentenced to prison for his public affairs with white women, but his biggest crime may in fact have been his years of dominance in the ring against white men.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., have led the effort in Congress to get a posthumous pardon for Johnson, who they say was railroaded by racism and jealousy over his athletic prowess.

The two boxing enthusiasts have worked together for several years to get a resolution supporting a pardon for Johnson. This year, for the first time, the measure passed both the House and Senate.

Now the decision rests with Obama.

The White House declined to comment on the Johnson issue, saying it does not comment on any pardon requests, but McCain said he is confident that eventually Obama will issue the pardon.

"It was a miscarriage of justice and one that deserves to be corrected," McCain told ABC News. "It was a stain on our national honor."

King echoed that sentiment.

"This is long overdue," King told ABC News. "We can rectify that and we should rectify that."

The resolution states Johnson should receive a posthumous pardon "to expunge a racially motivated abuse" by the justice system from the "annals of criminal justice in the United States."

It says that the charges against Johnson were brought up "clearly to keep him away from the boxing ring where he continued to defeat his white opponents."

"A terrible wrong was done to him," King said. "He was unjustly prosecuted, unjustly convicted. He was basically destroyed at the height of his career."

Jack Johnson's Dominance in Ring Spurred Search for "Great White Hope"

Johnson was a lightning rod for controversy, with his flamboyant style, his years of dominance in the boxing ring and his open courting of white women at a time when that was seen as taboo for an African-American man.

Johnson became the first African-American to win boxing's heavyweight crown on Dec. 26, 1908 -- a century before Obama's election as the nation's first black president and nearly 40 years before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball.

Johnson's record in the ring against his mostly white opponents spurred a furious search for a "Great White Hope."

For years Johnson sought a fight with James Jeffries, a hulking white boxer who reigned as heavyweight champion for nearly six years.

Jeffries left the sport rather than face Johnson and risk losing, but later he was convinced to come out of retirement and step into the ring for the ultimate showdown.

The Johnson-Jeffries fight, on July 4, 1910 in Reno, Nev., was deemed the "Battle of the Century," two titans of the sport fighting with not just a title on the line, but significant racial issues as well.

"I am going into this fight for the sole purpose of proving that a white man is better than a Negro," Jeffries said before the fight.

But Johnson prevailed over Jeffries in the 15-round fight. His victory sparked deadly race riots and violence across the nation and further fueled the hostility directed at Johnson.

Johnson Sentenced to Prison for Relationship With White Women

In 1910, Congress passed the Mann Act, which made it unlawful to transport women across state lines "for the purpose of prostitution, debauchery, or for any other immoral purpose."

The bill was aimed at cracking down on prostitution, but some believe it was used against Johnson as retribution for his success in the ring and his lifestyle.

Law enforcement authorities first targeted Johnson's relationship with a white woman named Lucille Cameron, but the two got married and she refused to cooperate with the investigation.

Another former lover of Johnson's, a white woman named Belle Schreiber, came forward to testify against him.

Based on her testimony, Johnson was convicted in 1913 of violating the Mann Act but fled to France before he was sentenced in order to avoid punishment.

Johnson's story was chronicled in Ken Burns' 2005 documentary "Unforgiveable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson."

According to the documentary, the prosecutor in the case said after the verdict that Johnson was made into a scapegoat.

"This Negro, in the eyes of many, has been persecuted. Perhaps as an individual he was. But it was his misfortune to be the foremost example of the evil in permitting the intermarriage of whites and blacks," the prosecutor said.

His reign as heavyweight champion came to an end when he lost to a white boxer, Jess Willard, in a fight in Cuba in 1915. He returned to the United States in 1920 to surrender to authorities and served 10 months in prison.

Johnson tried to resuscitate his boxing career but he never regained his crown. The former champion was killed in a car accident in North Carolina in 1946 at the age of 68.

McCain, King Push White House to Act on Pardon

In April, McCain and King appeared with three of Johnson's relatives to announce their resolution urging a presidential pardon.

"We need to erase this act of racism which sent an American citizen to prison on a trumped-up charge," McCain said that day. "I have great confidence this president will be more than eager to sign this legislation and pardon Jack Johnson."

In their letter to the president last Friday, McCain and King asked Obama to "right this wrong and erase an act of racism that sent an American citizen to prison."

The two lawmakers note that it is their second letter to the president asking him to consider Congress' request for a pardon.

"Regrettably, we have not received a response from you or any member of your administration," they wrote.

Both McCain and King told ABC News Tuesday that they have not yet heard from the White House on the issue.

"We're not upset about it or unhappy about it. We know the president's very busy," McCain said.

King said he understood that Obama has a lot on his plate, but thinks this is an issue that could bring people together.

"I don't want to sound critical because he does have Afghanistan. I don't want to be saying, 'Hey, it's more important to be pardoning Jack Johnson than deciding on Afghanistan," King said. "On the other hand I do think President Obama can do both things."

Both McCain and King noted the significance of a presidential pardon for Johnson.

It would show "that America's come a long way and that Americans, even though it takes us way, way, way too long, are willing to do what we can to correct injustices that were committed on any of our citizens," McCain said.