Posthumous pardon sought for Johnson

Updated: October 21, 2009, 6:03 PM ET
Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Sen. John McCain on Friday pressed President Barack Obama to give a posthumous pardon to Jack Johnson, the black heavyweight boxing champion who was imprisoned nearly a century ago because of his romantic ties with a white woman.

[+] EnlargeJack Johnson
AP PhotoJack Johnson was convicted of transporting a woman across state lines for immoral purposes and served nearly a year in prison.

McCain, R-Ariz., and Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., noted in a letter to Obama that both houses of Congress this summer passed their resolution urging a pardon. After the vote, the lawmakers wrote to Obama in August asking him to issue the pardon.

"Regrettably, we have not received a response from you or any member of your administration," they wrote in Friday's letter, adding they hoped that Obama would be eager to "right this wrong and erase an act of racism that sent an American citizen to prison."

The White House had no immediate comment.

Johnson became the first black heavyweight champion on Dec. 26, 1908 -- 100 years before Obama was elected the first black president. Johnson won the title after police in Australia stopped his 14-round match against the severely battered Canadian world champion, Tommy Burns.

That led to a search for a "Great White Hope" who could beat Johnson. Two years later, Jim Jeffries, the American world titleholder Johnson had tried for years to fight, came out of retirement but lost in a match called "The Battle of the Century," resulting in deadly riots.

Johnson was convicted in 1913 of violating the Mann Act, which made it illegal to transport women across state lines for immoral purposes. He fled the country after his conviction, but agreed years later to return and serve a 10-month jail sentence.


Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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