A Post-Humous Jack Johnson Pardon From Trump Would Be Disrespectful

Recently, Donald Trump made waves when he alluded to his interest in posthumously pardoning boxer Jack Johnson.

Jack Johnson was the first African-American heavyweight champion that faced much adversity and was wrongfully convicted of transporting a white woman across state lines in a racially motivated prosecution.

Johnson was convicted of violating the Mann Act in 1913 and died in 1946. If Trump grants a posthumous pardon, it would represent a rare use of the constitutional pardon power that many of his predecessors have resisted. Many thought President Barack Obama would use his pardoning power for Johnson but instead, he freed hundreds of people that were victims of unfair drug sentencing laws. 

Many of those released were people of color.

President Obama also declined to grant the Hall of Fame boxer a pardon since the Justice Department resists granting pardons to dead people because it could create a bad precedent. The fear of wasting scarce resources to restore civil rights to people who can’t benefit from them has always been a concern when discussing posthumous pardoning.

Boxing’s Best: Jack Johnson

This HBO documentary is hosted by Barry Tompkins. It features interviews with Jim Jacobs and Howard Sackler.

Trump said he was encouraged to grant the pardon by none other than Rocky Balboa himself, Sylvester Stallone.

“Sylvester Stallone called me with the story of heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson. His trials and tribulations were great, his life complex and controversial,” Trump tweeted Saturday. “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 on Twitter

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!

While Trump’s consideration of Johnson’s legacy is noted there are so many current atrocities in the private penal system that Trump’s pardoning power would be best spent liberating current victims of the system first and then right the wrongs of the past.

“I think if theyre going to create a Jack Johnson Bill to look at all the people who are in prison, but are wrongly convicted, I think its a wonderful idea,” said Professor Lou Moore of Grand Valley State University. “But, in reality, to me, this seems like a one-off a moment; a moment to say this singular individual was done wrong, without having to wrestle with the past racism that led to this.”

Trump came under fire for his comments during the Central Park 5 rape case where he felt the alleged perpetrators should receive the harshest punishment with no evidence against them.

Trump spent $85,000 on a full-page ad in the NY Times and three other newspapers that read:


What has happened to law and order? I want to hate these muggers and murderers. They should be forced to suffer I want them to be afraid. Criminals must be told that their CIVIL LIBERTIES END WHEN AN ATTACK ON OUR SAFETY BEGINS.

Sound familiar with his focus on Mexicans and immigration? The five black and brown kids (ages 14 to 16) that his ad helped convict where poor and like Kalief Browder lacked the resources to fight this sort of blitzkrieg campaign against them. Thirteen years later when Matias Reyes confessed that he alone slashed and raped Trisha Meili on April 19, 1989, as she was jogging in Central Park, Trump was silent. DNA evidence confirmed Reyes was the rapist.

The conviction of the Central Park Five was overturned. Of course, the Donald didn’t take out another ad to recant or apologize for the initial advertisement.

A pardon for Johnson has had bipartisan support from members of Congress over the years, including former Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev. and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

In 2015, Congress tacked on a provision to the Every Student Succeeds Act urging a pardon, saying it would “expunge a racially-motivated abuse of the prosecutorial authority of the federal government from the annals of criminal justice in the United States.”

“It doesnt even become a teachable moment,” said Professor Moore. “Instead, its marketed as a feel-good story, without having to do any hard work and wrestle with our ugly history and also without having to admit going after Jack Johnson was indicative of how we treated/treat black people in America.”

Jack Johnson KOs Burns This Day In Boxing History – December 26, 1908 –

Jack Johnson travels to Sydney Australia to challenge Tommy Burns for the Heavyweight Title. Jack Johnson stops Burns in 8 to become the new champ and change boxing forever. Currently, there is a move to remove the criminal charges from Johnson’s history.

Johnson was the first African-American world heavyweight champion, whose victory in 1908 launched a search for a boxer who could dethrone him in what became known as “the great white hope.” 

In 1912, Johnson was accused of violating of the Mann Act, which prohibited transporting a woman across state lines “for any immoral purpose.” Charges were dropped in part because the supposed victim, Lucille Cameron, would later become his second wife.

But the government found a second woman, and in 1913 an all-white jury convicted him. He fled to Canada and then to Europe, returning in 1920 to serve out his sentence. Jack Johnson’s story is one of the most blaring examples of racial animus and Machiavellian climate of that time, however, since we are not that far removed Trump would be better suited helping those who need it today.


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