John McCain, Harry Reid ask Obama to pardon boxer Jack Johnson

Portrait of American boxer, heavyweight champion and inventor Jack Johnson (1878 - 1946) smoking a cigar, circa 1930s.

Story highlights

  • Bipartisan members of Congress are pushing for a presidential pardon for boxer Jack Johnson
  • Four members of Congress authored a letter to President Barack Obama on the issue

Washington (CNN)Sens. John McCain and Harry Reid are joining together to ask President Barack Obama to posthumously pardon Jack Johnson, the first African-American heavyweight boxing champion.

The lawmakers who come from different sides of the aisle have joined with House Reps. Peter King, a Republican, and Gregory Meeks, a Democrat, to send a joint letter to the White House requesting the pardon.
    "We write once again to bring your attention to the ongoing injustice of John Arthur 'Jack' Johnson's racially-motivated conviction, now over a hundred years old," the lawmakers jointly wrote Thursday.
    Jack Johnson, the first African-American Heavyweight Boxing Champion, had his character and career besmirched when he was convicted "under the Mann Act in 1913 for transporting his white girlfriend across state lines," according to the letter.
    The goal of the Mann Act was to prevent human trafficking for the purpose of prostitution. But critics say the conviction which imprisoned Johnson was racially motivated and led to Johnson being imprisoned for a year. The conviction ruined Johnson's career and reputation.
    "This month marks the 70th anniversary of Jack Johnson's death. While it is unfortunate that this unjust conviction was not corrected during the boxer's lifetime, a posthumous pardon today represents the opportunity to reaffirm Jack Johnson's substantial contributions to our society and right this historical wrong," the letter stated said.
    McCain and King have introduced legislation urging the President to pardon Johnson since 2004. After both chambers of Congress passed a resolution calling for the pardon, it's up to the President.
    The White House told CNN that it does not comment on specific clemency requests.
    "As we mark the 70th anniversary of Jack Johnson's death this month, we are reminded of the cruel injustices of our nation's past that led to this great athlete's wrongful conviction more than a century ago," McCain, a Republican, said in a statement Thursday.
    Reid, the Senate minority leader, described Johnson's conviction as a "miscarriage of justice."
    "Jack Johnson defined an era of American boxing. He was a true champion, a fighter and a barrier-breaking pioneer whose reputation was tarnished by the racism of that time, which led to his unjust imprisonment," said Reid, who was once a boxer himself.