Forrest praised for role in pardon fight

WASHINGTON --- Congress approved a resolution Wednesday urging a presidential pardon for Jack Johnson, the late black heavyweight champion who was imprisoned because of his romantic ties with a white woman.


The House passed the resolution by voice vote, about a month after the Sen-ate approved it.

Johnson became the first black heavyweight champion in 1908, a century before the nation elected Barack Obama its first black president. The Senate resolution was sponsored by Obama's 2008 GOP rival, Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., noted that Augusta native Vernon Forrest, a former boxing champion who was killed Saturday in Atlanta when he exchanged gunfire with robbery suspects, had championed Johnson's cause -- including meeting with members of Congress a few years ago.

Jackson praised Forrest for his "consciousness, for his willingness to fight for something bigger than himself, and for the extraordinary legacy that he has left us all."

In 1913, Johnson was convicted of violating the Mann Act, which made it illegal to transport women across state lines for immoral purposes. The law has since been heavily amended, but has not been repealed.

Johnson fled the country after his conviction, but agreed years later to return and serve a 10-month jail sentence. He tried to renew his boxing career after leaving prison, but failed to regain his title. He died in a car crash in 1946 at age 68.

The resolution approved by Congress says that Johnson should receive a posthumous pardon "for the racially motivated conviction in 1913 that diminished the athletic, cultural, and historic significance of Jack Johnson and unduly tarnished his reputation." It says a pardon would "expunge a racially motivated abuse of the prosecutorial authority of the federal government from the annals of criminal justice in the United States."

"It has now been over 100 years since Jack Johnson won the heavyweight title, and it's time we restore his reputation with a pardon that is long overdue," said New York Republican Peter King.



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