President Donald Trump on Thursday granted a posthumous pardon to Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight champion, after he was convicted in 1913 of violating the Mann Act, which forbade a person from transporting a woman across state lines for immoral reasons.
"Today I've issued an executive grant of clemency, a full pardon, posthumously, to John Arthur ‘Jack' Johnson … the first African-American heavyweight champion of the world, a truly great fighter. Had a tough life," Trump said.
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Trump was joined in the Oval Office by "Rocky" actor Sylvester Stallone, current heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder, Lennox Lewis, and Johnson's great-great niece Linda Bell Haywood. The president went on to outline how Johnson violated the Mann Act during a time in U.S. history when tensions were high between white people and African Americans.
Trump said Johnson served 10 months in federal prison "for what many view as a racially-motivated injustice."
"Congress has supported numerous resolutions calling for Johnson's pardon," Trump said. "It went through Congress numerous time[s]. No president ever signed it, surprisingly. They thought that it was going to be signed in the last administration, and that didn't happen, so that was very disappointing for a lot of people."
Trump added that the call to pardon Johnson has been widely supported by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
"These resolutions enjoyed widespread bipartisan support, including from the Congressional Black Caucus. Black caucus supported it very very powerfully, very strongly, but they couldn't get the president to sign it. One of these resolutions passed Congress as recently as 2015," Trump said in reference to former President Barack Obama's decision not to pardon Johnson.
Trump later congratulated everyone that surrounded his Oval Office desk and said "it's about time" Johnson be pardoned.
"You all fought very, very hard to get this done, so it's my honor to do it. It's about time," said Trump as he signed the pardon letter.
"Congratulations," Pres. Trump tells Sylvester Stallone, former heavyweight boxer Lennox Lewis, and more as he signs pardon of Jack Johnson in the Oval Office.
— This Week (@ThisWeekABC) May 24, 2018
Trump tweeted last month that he was considering a "full pardon."
"Sylvester Stallone called me with the story of heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson. 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!" Trump tweeted.
Sylvester Stallone called me with the story of heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson. 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!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 21, 2018
Obama passed on pardoning Johnson during his administration due to allegations of domestic violence against women, according to the New York Times.