Senate panel seeks pardon for black boxer Jack Johnson

CARSON CITY — A Senate committee voted unanimously Tuesday to support a state resolution seeking a presidential pardon for 20th-century African-American boxer Jack Johnson.

Sen. Greg Brower, R-Reno, and Assemblyman Harvey Munford, D-Las Vegas, asked the Senate Committee on Legislative Operations and Elections to approve Senate Joint Resolution 12.

The committee recommended a “do pass” on the proposal after a short hearing.

Johnson, the first African-American heavyweight champion of the world, famously defended his title on July 4, 1910, in Reno in what became known as “The Fight of the Century.”

He was persecuted for his lifestyle, including his relationships with white women, and was convicted of violating the Mann Act, which was aimed at stopping human trafficking. Johnson served a year in prison on the federal conviction.

“It is now generally acknowledged that Jack Johnson’s prosecution was racially motivated and should never have happened,” Brower said.

A similar resolution, supported by U.S. Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Harry Reid, D-Nev., among others, is being considered in the U.S. Senate.

While only a symbolic action, it is appropriate for Nevada to pass such a resolution, Brower said.

Munford said, “This pardon is long overdue and will help preserve a positive legacy for Jack Johnson and his family.”

Members of Congress have been trying to get the pardon for Johnson for nearly a decade. The U.S. Justice Department doesn’t usually consider posthumous pardons.

Johnson died in a car crash in North Carolina in 1946.

Brower called Johnson a man before his time whose career was cut short because of an unjust prosecution.

“It is time that his wrongful conviction be expunged, and because of our state’s special connection to the legend of Jack Johnson, the Nevada Legislature should be the first in the country to urge President Obama to issue a pardon,” Brower said.

Contact Capital Bureau reporter Sean Whaley at swhaley@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3900.