President Donald Trump is weighing a possible posthumous pardon to boxer Jack Johnson, after actor Sylvester Stallone informed him of Johnson’s 1913 arrest.
"His trials and tribulations were great, his life complex and controversial," Trump announced via tweet on Saturday. "Others have looked at this over the years, most thought it would be done, but yes, I am considering a Full Pardon!"
According to Trump, Stallone called him to tell him the story of Johnson, the first black heavyweight boxing champion, who passed away in a car crash in 1946.
After Johnson took his white girlfriend across state lines in 1913, he was convicted under the Mann Act, a law intended to prevent human trafficking that was criticized for its use to unfairly prosecute African-Americans.
Trump is not the first president who has been asked to pardon Johnson. In 2016, a bipartisan group of lawmakers asked President Obama to pardon the boxer.
Yet Reverends Emmett G. Price III and Irene Monroe see the situation differently. They told Boston Public Radio the case seems like a lot posthumous pardon posturing, when there are thousands of more pressing cases at hand.
The following excerpt has been edited for clarity. To hear the full segment, click on the audio player above.
EMMETT: I think it’s silly, because if President Trump is going to pardon some folks, there is a whole list of folks who are actively petitioning, some on death row. Jack Johnson was convicted in 1913 under the Mann Act for taking his white girlfriend across state lines for “immoral purposes.” You could have fact-checked that a little bit and picked a little more of a righteous cause, I would argue.
IRENE: Of course, this is before Mildred Loving vs. The State of Virginia, [which] cut down anti-miscegenation laws. It was 1967.
JIM: Can you believe how recent that is?
IRENE: Listen, if he pardons him — wonderful. I think he should be pardoned. And I think if [there’s] anybody [Trump] would pardon, it would be him, simply because Trump is enamored with strong men. He would define himself as coming to the rescue of another strong man like himself.
JIM: In part, is Trump doing this because [Jackson] is dead, and it’s less risk-laden?
EMMETT: There’s no risk! There’s absolutely no risk. There are no protests, there’s no cause trying to get Jack Johnson exonerated from the 1913 conviction. There’s nobody out there … except for Sly Stallone.
IRENE: I think it’s wonderful because of what it does for his family, it puts it at rest for Jack Johnson’s lineage here, that their father, grandfather has finally been pardoned by the president of the United States, even if it’s someone that Johnson wouldn’t even like.
Reverends Irene Monroe and Emmett Price join us every week for All Revved Up. Irene Monroe is a syndicated religion columnist and the Boston voice for Detour’s African American Heritage Trail. Emmett G. Price III is a Professor and Founding Executive Director of the Institute for the Study of the Black Christian Experience at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.