When Sylvester Stallone calls, even President Donald Trump takes the call. Stallone is asking for a presidential pardon for deceased heavyweight boxer Jack Johnson. Johnson was the son of former slaves. He made himself famous for being the first black world heavyweight boxing world champion in 1908.
The original Mann Act (White Slave Traffic Act) was enacted in 1910. Part of its intent was to prohibit interstate or foreign commercial transport of any female for purposes of “prostitution, debauchery, or for any other immoral purpose.” Having had relationships with several white women, Johnson was tried, convicted and sentenced to a year and a day in prison for violating the Mann Act in 1913, regardless of the fact that there was no Mann Act at the time of the alleged violation. Johnson skipped bail and fled the country posing as a member of a black baseball team on a trip to Montreal. He continued his career until 1920 when he surrendered to federal agents and served his prison sentence. Johnson continued to fight past the age of 60. He died in a car crash in 1946.
Posthumous presidential pardons are unusual, but they have been granted in the past. It has reported that Johnson’s sullied reputation caused some of his family members to live in shame of his legacy. His great-great niece reported that Johnson’s family was led to believe that he had done something wrong. The woman isn’t alone though. Johnson’s pardon is also backed by Sen. John McCain, former Sen. Harry Reid, Rep. Peter King and filmmaker Ken Burns.
The U.S. Department of Justice decides possible pardons through application procedures. It then makes its recommendations to the president. The policy of the Department of Justice is that “processing of posthumous pardon petitions is grounded in the belief that the time of the officials involved in the clemency process is better spent on the time and commutation requests of living persons.”