House Seeks Pardon for First Black Heavyweight Champ

The first black heavyweight champion should be granted a presidential pardon for a racially motivated conviction 75 years ago that blemished his reputation and hurt his boxing career, the House recommended Friday.

Jack Johnson became world heavyweight champion in 1908, sparking a search for a white boxer, dubbed "the Great White Hope," who could beat him.

In 1913, Johnson was convicted of violating the Mann Act which outlawed the transportation of women across state lines for immoral purposes. Authorities had first unsuccessfully tried to charge Johnson over his relationship with a white woman who later became his wife. They then found another white woman who testified that Johnson had transported her across state lines in violation of the Mann Act.

Johnson fled the country, returning in 1920 to serve nearly one year at Leavenworth. He tried to renew his boxing career after leaving prison, but never regained his title.

The House resolution, passed by voice, states that Johnson paved the way for black athletes to participate and succeed in integrated professional sports and that he was "wronged by a racially motivated conviction prompted by his success in the boxing ring and his relationships with white women." It urged the president to grant Johnson, who died in 1946, a posthumous pardon.

"He was a victim of the times and we need to set the record straight — clear his name — and recognize him for his groundbreaking contribution to the sport of boxing," said Rep Peter King, R-N.Y., author of the resolution.

The measure now goes to the Senate, where Republican presidential nominee John McCain, a senator from Arizona, has a companion resolution.