On Thursday, President Donald Trump granted a posthumous presidential pardon to legendary boxer Jack Johnson, the first African-American boxing heavyweight champion.
Johnson, who died in 1946, was convicted of violating The Mann Act in 1913 after taking his white wife, Lucille Cameron, across state lines for what the white jury called “immoral purpose.”
NPR News reports that Trump signed the pardon after actor Sylvester Stallone reached out. Trump called Johnson “one of the greatest that ever lived,” before adding that many people saw the boxer’s conviction “as a racially motivated injustice.”
In 2009 and 2013, Barack Obama was called to pardon Johnson but, according to The Daily Beast, never acted out of “political discomfort.” Gavin Parke, a former senior leadership staffer for former Nevada Senator Harry Reid, told the publication, “[R]eading between the lines, our conjecture was that they didn’t want to engage in divisive racial issues that were largely symbolic…The Obama White House was stringently opposed to the pardons process becoming politicized in any way. They felt so strongly about that, it may have extended even to posthumous pardons.”
Posthumous pardons are also extremely rare. Johnson is only the third posthumous pardon in US history.
While the long overdue pardon is something to celebrate, Trump’s his comments about Black athletes, the Central Park five, and his feelings about Obama have not been forgotten as some question his motives.
“I am taking this very righteous step, I believe, to correct a wrong that occurred in our history and to honor a truly legendary boxing champion,” Trump added to those in attendance.