President Trump posthumously pardons boxer Jack Johnson

Johnson was boxing's first black heavyweight champion.

May 24, 2018, 3:35 PM

President Donald Trump signed a full posthumous pardon for former heavyweight boxer Jack Johnson in a surprise Oval Office ceremony alongside actor Sylvester Stallone, former heavyweight boxer Lennox Lewis, and others.

"It's my honor to do it. It's about time," Trump said during the ceremony in the Oval Office.

Just 30 minutes before reporters were called to the event, Stallone posted a picture of himself on Instagram.

“He was treated very rough, very tough,” Trump said of Johnson on Thursday as he signed the pardon.

In 1913, Johnson, a noted boxing legend, was convicted by an all-white jury with violating the Mann Act after transporting a white woman he was dating across state lines for “immoral purposes.”

He served one year in prison.

Open air Heavyweight 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.
Philipp Kester/ullstein bild via Getty Images

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

His great-great-niece, Linda Haywood, has led the charge for Johnson to receive a rare posthumous pardon. Others have taken up the cause célèbre as well including Senators John McCain, R-Arizona, Harry Reid, R-Nevada, and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. Earlier this year, McCain, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Rep. Pete King, R-N.Y., reintroduced legislation urging a posthumous pardon.

On Thursday, McCain applauded the pardon.

"President Trump's action today finally closes a shameful chapter in our nation’s history and marks a milestone that the American people can and should be proud of,” McCain said in a statement.

Last month, Trump tweeted that "Sylvester Stallone called me with the story of heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson," the president tweeted Saturday. "His trials and tribulations were great, his life complex and controversial. Others have looked at this over the years, most thought it would be done, but yes, I am considering a Full Pardon!"

The boxer Jack Johnson in 1913.
Branger/Roger Viollet via Getty Images

Trump's other recent pardons include Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio and former Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff Scooter Libby.

ABC News' Meridith McGraw and Halimah Abdullah contributed to this story.

Related Topics