Pardon for boxer Jack Johnson sought

April 1, 2009 at 1:53 PM

WASHINGTON, April 1 (UPI) -- Two U.S. lawmakers said they are working to win a presidential pardon for Jack Johnson, the world's first African-American heavyweight boxing champion.

Johnson was convicted in 1913 of violating the Mann Act for having consensual sexual relations with a white woman across state lines. Many people believe the prosecution was racially based, McClatchy Newspapers reported Wednesday.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Rep Peter King, R-N.Y., said they planned to introduce a resolution calling on U.S. President Barack Obama to pardon Johnson, McClatchy said.

"Not that I'm a great liberal but heavyweight champions used to be the greatest athletes and Jack Johnson was a champion, the first African-American champion," King told McClatchy. "Jack Johnson was hounded out of the championship and out of boxing. He didn't get his due and the African-American community didn't get their due. This would help clear that cloud."

Johnson was the world's heavyweight champion from 1908-15. He fled the United States after he was convicted but before he was sentenced. He lost his title in 1915 to Jess Willard, who was white. Johnson died in 1946. His life story was the subject of a feature film and a documentary by Ken Burns.

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