World Boxing Council president Mauricio Sulaiman looked around the Oval Office on Thursday and was shaken by the moment of late heavyweight champion Jack Johnson finally receiving his full, posthumous pardon.
“We’re so happy. It’s a victory for humanity, human equality and inclusion,” Sulaiman said. “And it’s a great day for boxing.”
With Sulaiman, former heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis, current WBC heavyweight champ Deontay Wilder and “Rocky” star Sylvester Stallone at his side, President Trump’s action forgives Johnson of his 1913 conviction of violating the Mann Act, which made it illegal to transport women across state lines for “immoral” purposes.
Trump said Johnson’s conviction, by an all-white jury, for merely traveling from one state to another with a white woman was a racially motivated injustice.
The treatment of Johnson, along with his boxing heroics, has made him a legendary popular culture figure, with biographies, songs, dramas and documentaries exploring his importance as a civil rights figure.
“This was a long process that has been in negotiation for generations, and it was through the greatest ambassador of our sport, Sylvester Stallone, who went and closed the deal,” Sulaiman said following the White House ceremony. “We’re so happy.”
Johnson’s great-great niece, who pressed for the pardon of Johnson for years, with the support of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and former Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada, attended Trump’s signing.
“The niece broke up, was very emotional and so thankful for this executive pardon that was long overdue,” Sulaiman said. “It was a very emotional moment.
“From the first black heavyweight champion, Jack Johnson, to the current, Deontay Wilder, it was a magical event.”