Legendary boxer Jack Johnson is best known to many as the first Black heavyweight champion in the sport. In 1913, Johnson’s arrest for a now outdated law remains a political point of contention as a bi-partisan effort to seek a presidential pardon remains ongoing.
In 1913, Johnson violated the Mann Act, a law that made it illegal to transport for a Black man to transport a white woman across state lines. Johnson was already a controversial figure, as he typically vanquished his white foes with ease and lived a lavish lifestyle. Johnson’s defiance and what W.E.B. Du Bois referred to as his “unforgivable Blackness” made life outside the ring uncomfortable for the fighter.
That same woman that Johnson was charged for transporting across states eventually became his wife. His open dating of white women made him a target of racists despite his notoriety and fame.