Today, legislation authored by Representative Peter King (R-Seaford) to pardon the first black heavyweight boxing champion, John Arthur "Jack" Johnson, passed the House of Representatives. The bill, H.Con.Res.214, calls for the president to posthumously pardon the boxing legend, who was wronged with a racially motivated conviction in 1913 under the Mann Act, which prohibited taking women across state lines for "immoral purposes."
King, who trains at a boxing gym where he spars every week, said, "It has been 100 years since Jack Johnson became the first African-American man to win the heavyweight title, and this pardon is long overdue. He was a victim of the times and we need to set the record straight - clear his name - and recognize him for his groundbreaking contributions to the sport of boxing."
In 1908, Jack Johnson became the first black World Heavyweight Boxing Champion after defeating Tommy Burns in Australia - a title he held until 1915. Prompted by his success in the boxing ring and his relationship with a white woman, Jack Johnson was wrongly convicted under the Mann Act when he brought the woman he was dating across state lines.
The intent of the Mann Act was to prevent human trafficking of women for the purpose of prostitution. However, racially motivated convictions imprisoned Jack Johnson for a year in 1913. The convictions ruined his career and destroyed his reputation.
"Jack Johnson was a trailblazer in the sport of boxing, who paved the way for future African-American athletes," said King. "He was a flamboyant and controversial character who shaped our American history with his athletic achievements in heavyweight boxing. His name should no longer bear the burden of a wrongly-placed, racially motivated conviction. It's time we grant him the pardon."
King, a life-long boxing fan, first introduced this legislation to pardon Jack Johnson in 2004. His bill has been strongly supported by Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-IL) and Senator John McCain (R-AZ), who has introduced the companion bill in the Senate in previous congresses.