May 24, 2018, 3:35 PM ET

President Trump posthumously pardons boxer Jack Johnson

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President Donald Trump signed a full posthumous pardon for former heavyweight boxer Jack Johnson in a surprise Oval Office ceremony alongside actor Sylvester Stallone, former heavyweight boxer Lennox Lewis, and others.

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"It's my honor to do it. It's about time," Trump said during the ceremony in the Oval Office.

Just 30 minutes before reporters were called to the event, Stallone posted a picture of himself on Instagram.

“He was treated very rough, very tough,” Trump said of Johnson on Thursday as he signed the pardon.

In 1913, Johnson, a noted boxing legend, was convicted by an all-white jury with violating the Mann Act after transporting a white woman he was dating across state lines for “immoral purposes.”

He served one year in prison.

PHOTO: Open air Heavyweight World Championship fight between the reigning world champion Tommy Burns of Canada, left, and challenger Jack Johnson in front of 20,000 spectators at Rushcutters Bay near Sydney in 1908.Philipp Kester/ullstein bild via Getty Images
Open air Heavyweight World Championship fight between the reigning world champion Tommy Burns of Canada, left, and challenger Jack Johnson in front of 20,000 spectators at Rushcutters Bay near Sydney in 1908.

Under the Obama administration, the Department of Justice opted not to recommend a posthumous pardon for Johnson.

His great-great-niece, Linda Haywood, has led the charge for Johnson to receive a rare posthumous pardon. Others have taken up the cause célèbre as well including Senators John McCain, R-Arizona, Harry Reid, R-Nevada, and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. Earlier this year, McCain, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Rep. Pete King, R-N.Y., reintroduced legislation urging a posthumous pardon.

On Thursday, McCain applauded the pardon.

"President Trump's action today finally closes a shameful chapter in our nation’s history and marks a milestone that the American people can and should be proud of,” McCain said in a statement.

Last month, Trump tweeted that "Sylvester Stallone called me with the story of heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson," the president tweeted Saturday. "His trials and tribulations were great, his life complex and controversial. Others have looked at this over the years, most thought it would be done, but yes, I am considering a Full Pardon!"

PHOTO: The boxer Jack Johnson in 1913. Branger/Roger Viollet via Getty Images
The boxer Jack Johnson in 1913.

Trump's other recent pardons include Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio and former Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff Scooter Libby.

ABC News' Meridith McGraw and Halimah Abdullah contributed to this story.

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  • YellowParrott

    Finally, someone like President Trump, stood-up for Jack Johnson. Surprised aren't you?

  • Tom Zimmerman

    FYI: A letter-to-editor writer in the NY Times cites the pardon as a racist act by President Trump. Presume he's a regular reader of that "newspaper" and they've succeeded beyond the fullest measure at flipping his brain upside down.

  • Educated

    ....Now let's do Marcus Garvey next!

  • Weazerdogg

    Trumph thinks if every once in awhile he does something decent, the hundreds of lousy and pathetic things he does will be forgotten. I have an ex-wife that used to think that way ....

  • bibleexpert

    Just 30 minutes before reporters were called to the event, Trump had no idea who Jack Johnson was.

  • billlls

    Once again, Trump doing the right thing and the Left can't stand it.

  • knoxvillehawg25

    I'm all for pardoning Jack Johnson, but this reeks of soliciting black votes. Call me cynical, but that's this administration's M.O.

  • Misty Mac 💯

    While he does nothing to help reform the penal system that still disproportionately affect black people. Sessions is reversing reform.

  • Timulculin

    LOL! No matter what Trump does .... universally considered bad ........ unalterably considered good ....... whatever ....... people will still bash him for doing it.

  • Billy Bob Smith

    The only reason Trump did this is because Obama did not do it. He wants another score that he can rub in Democrats' faces. No different than his sudden dropping of the June 12th summit. He wanted to be the one doing the canceling. Me, me, me is his mantra.

  • CaptnBlynd

    Political grandstanding. A posthumous pardon is pointless. A decent social statement but pointless.
    I have nothing against this pardon but editing history really is a waste of time.

  • alkarim amarsi

    Pardoned by a racist: What an irony!

  • Deep Cover

    Token gesture ... Trump should also pardon Jesus while he's at it.

  • Quantez Williams

    Who really cares? It's not like he was convicted of rape or murder. He was convicted of an unjust charge. I don't believe there was any blemish on his legacy from the incident; nor do I believe this pardon does anything to improve it.

  • Andrew

    Crooked donald did it it for some positive press coverage. It's such a joke. He HATES people of color. We ALL know this.

  • Laney D.

    Yes it was the right thing to do but I question his motives for doing
    so. It seems the closer it gets to voting again, the more Trump takes
    steps to try to get people to think he's great. He isn't, but does what
    he thinks will get him approval at the moment. He uses people and situations for his personal benefit not because he thinks they're the right thing to do.

  • Educated

    ....This was a good thing done by Trump. I guess he was attempting to make up for reversing the Obama-era rule designed to prevent racial bias by car dealers.....I wonder if those people in the photo with Trump are aware of that HEADLINE?

  • disqus_7Qw73LfCUQ

    Trump thought he was freeing a slave!

  • Chuck Heston

    Thank you President Trump!! This was a long time coming. Why didn't the former administration not take care of this miscarriage of justice during the 8 years in office?

  • adamrussell

    "President Trump's action today finally closes a shameful chapter in our nation’s history "

    Its just too bad its not really ended yet.

  • Robin

    i wonder if trump knew who this guy was 6 months ago.

  • Red Hawk

    I suspect Trump believes he's garnered up the Black vote in 2020.

  • askew

    Yo. Adrian.

  • Pat Baxter

    Not impressed. Trump goes out of his way to use black people as some variation of "window dressing." "Hey, looky here...I did something good for a black guy." Complete nonsense. That this (initial issue) revolved around a man and a woman....that would also draw Trump to this case (Trump is a lecher). Nope, had this pardon been done for the right reasons....then I'd be impressed.

  • John Smith

    Pardon right or wrong I have no idea. However I used to like Sylvester Stallone until I heard a while back that he likes Trump. What a Maroon!