Senator and ex-Presidential candidate John McCain announced Wednesday at a press conference that he will introduce a resolution seeking to pardon the deceased African American heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson. In 1913, Johnson was convicted of violating the Mann Act, for transporting a woman across state lines for illegal purposes. At the time, the Mann Act was used to convict black men involved in interracial relationships. Johnson was with a white woman at the time of his arrest.

jack johnson mccain

Jack Johnson

“We need to erase this act of racism which sent an American citizen to prison on a trumped-up charge,” John McCain said at the press conference, where he was accompanied by Jack Johnson’s great-niece, Dorothy Cross, and her daughters, Linda Haywood and Constance Hines.

In 1903, Johnson became the first black heavyweight champion in boxing history. At the time, he was reviled by many white Americans because he openly dated white women and was very outspoken. At one point, Johnson was married to a white woman named Lucille Cameron.

Also supporting John McCain was filmmaker Ken Burns, who in 2005 released a biography of Jack Johnson entitled “Unforgiveable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson.” Ken Burns has been a vocal proponent of pardoning Jack Johnson since the release of the documentary.

McCain stated that Johnson’s pardon from a racially motivated crime was necessary to help America forget the wrongs of its past. Johnson left the country after his conviction, though he later returned to serve a 10 month jail term. Johnson died in 1946.

I have no problems with pardoning Jack Johnson. I am just a little bit perplexed by the timing of this. There are numerous present day problems that John McCain could be getting involved in right now. Instead, he focuses on a boxer that’s been dead for decades? As for the symbolic need to redress past wrongs, er, I’m sorry, but what more symbolism does one need than a black president?

See an excerpt from Ken Burns’ documentary below.

Jack Johnson Biography