Soon after, an all-white jury convicted Johnson of transporting a white girlfriend across state lines, under the Mann Act, a law designed to prevent trafficking of women for prostitution. He eventually served 366 days in prison.
“Jack Johnson was a legendary competitor who defined an era of American boxing and raised the bar for all American athletics,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., a former boxer who added his name to this year’s resolution. “Johnson’s memory was unjustly tarnished by a racially motivated criminal conviction, and it is now time to recast his legacy.”
In 2004, Congress failed to pass a similar resolution. In 2008, the House of Representatives approved a resolution but the Senate did not. In 2009, the Senate and House passed the resolution, the first time since 1974 that both chambers had passed a concurrent resolution recommending a posthumous pardon for Johnson. They did so again in 2011.
Johnson died in a car crash in North Carolina in 1946 at age 68, after being refused service at a diner near Raleigh. His story has been chronicled in numerous stage and film productions of “The Great White Hope,” including a 1970 film starring James Earl Jones, and more recently in “Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson,” a PBS documentary by Ken Burns.
“Jack Johnson was one of the great African-American athletes,” said Sen. William “Mo” Cowan, D-Mass. “His skill and perseverance to get back up every time he was knocked down made him a champion in the eyes of the sports world and for those who, like him, pursued their dreams despite racial intolerance.”