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Meeks, King, McCain and Reid Urge President Obama to Grant Posthumous Pardon for Jack Johnson

December 11, 2015
Press Release

Meeks, King, McCain and Reid Urge President Obama to Grant Posthumous Pardon for Jack Johnson

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Yesterday, U.S. Representatives Gregory W. Meeks (D-NY) and Peter King (R-NY) joined U.S. Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Harry Reid (D-NV) in sending a letter to President Barack Obama asking him to issue a posthumous pardon to boxing legend John Arthur “Jack” Johnson. Johnson was the first African-American heavyweight-boxing champion but in 1913, he was charged under the Mann Act for his interracial relationship with a white woman, tarnishing his name and ruining his career. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) that President Obama signed yesterday included a resolution cosponsored by the above Representatives and Senators, expressing that it is the sense of Congress that Mr. Johnson should be posthumously pardoned. Congressman Meeks issued a statement regarding the letter to President Obama:

“Yesterday, I joined my colleagues across the aisle and across the U.S. Capitol to clear the name of a good man, John Arthur “Jack” Johnson. As a respected boxer, Johnson proved that African-Americans deserved a place in the ring. He inspired a generation of minority boxers, paving the way for boxing greats like Joe Louis and Muhammad Ali. Therefore, I am proud to stand in Jack Johnson’s corner with Representative Peter King, Senator John McCain, and Minority Leader Harry Reid as we continue the fight to restore Johnson’s reputation.”

The text of the letter is below:


December 10, 2015


The Honorable Barack Obama

President of the United States

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20500 

Dear President Obama,

We write to bring to your attention a provision of the Every Student Succeeds Act, signed into law today, which includes calling for the posthumous pardon of John Arthur "Jack" Johnson, a boxing great and the first African-American Heavyweight Boxing Champion. As you know, Mr. Johnson’s reputation was unfairly marred for over a hundred years by an unjust and racially-motivated conviction under the Mann Act, for transporting his white girlfriend across state lines. An identical resolution was unanimously approved by both the House and the Senate in 111th Congress, the first time since 1974 that both chambers passed a concurrent resolution calling for a posthumous pardon of an individual. Additionally, this resolution passed the House in the 110th Congress and passed the Senate in the 108th and 113th Congresses.

As this law makes clear, a pardon would expunge this racially-motivated abuse of authority from our nation’s criminal justice history and affirm Jack Johnson’s athletic and cultural contributions to our society. And, as acknowledged in a recent New York Times column, “in a nation that promotes itself as the land of the free, there are few things more important than…correcting injustices like the imprisonment of Johnson.” 

While we understand that posthumous presidential pardons are rare, we know they are neither unique nor lacking precedent; both Presidents Bush and Clinton issued posthumous pardons when they believed it was appropriate. Since you were sworn in as President, you have granted a total of 64 presidential pardons. We urge you to include Jack Johnson among pardon petitions to be granted. 


John McCain

Harry Reid                                                     

Peter King

Gregory Meeks