Joined by “Rocky” actor Sylvester Stallone in the Oval Office, President Trump on Thursday granted a posthumous pardon to Jack Johnson, boxing’s first black heavyweight champion.
Johnson, a target of racial resentment after he defeated a white boxer for the heavyweight title, was convicted by an all-white jury in 1913 of violating the Mann Act, which made it illegal to transport a woman across state lines for “immoral” purposes. He had been accompanied by Lucille Cameron, a white woman who later became his wife.
“We righted a wrong,” Mr. Trump said of his pardon. “Jack Johnson was not treated fairly and we have corrected that.”
Mr. Stallone and Johnson’s great-great-niece were among those urging the president to grant the pardon for Johnson, who died in 1946.
“He’s truly an inspirational character,” Mr. Stallone said of Johnson. “This has been a long time coming.”
To the president, Mr. Stallone said, “It’s incredible you’ve done this.”
Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, also has been pushing for a pardon for the boxing champion since 2004. He criticized former President Barack Obama for failing to grant one.
“Johnson’s imprisonment forced him into the shadows of bigotry and prejudice, and continues to stand as a shameful stain on our nation’s history,” McCain said in a statement in January 2017.
After his conviction, Johnson had fled the country. But he returned years later and agreed to serve a 10-month jail sentence.
In a tweet last month, Mr. Trump said Johnson’s “trials and tribulations were great, his life complex and controversial.”
Mr. Trump signed the pardon at a desk with a large, ornate World Boxing Council title belt propped up in front of him. With him were WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder, former boxing champion Lennox Lewis and others.
Johnson’s great-great niece, Linda Haywood of Chicago, thanked the president for his action, saying she was “overwhelmed.”
“I appreciate you rewriting history,” she said. “My family can go forward knowing the pain and the shame has been replaced.”
WBC President Mauricio Sulaiman Saldivar called the action “a great day for the sport.”
Mr. Trump joked about whether he could defeat Mr. Wilder, who has a 40-0 record with 39 knockouts, “if I start working out.”
Mr. Lewis advised the president, “You’d have to get past those long arms.”
The president said the Congressional Black Caucus and others in Congress had supported a pardon several times for Johnson, and he noted that people were surprised that Mr. Obama did not grant the pardon.
“I am taking this very righteous step to correct a wrong that occurred in our history,” Mr. Trump said, adding that Johnson was “really treated unfairly as a human being.”
“It’s about time,” he said to applause.