John Arthur “Jack” Johnson was a black heavyweight boxing champion from 1908 to 1915. On July 4, 1910 Johnson defended his title against former boxing legend James Jeffries in Reno. He won the fight, but the victory ignited race riots all over the country.
Johnson had several relationships with white women, which only added to the outrage over his race. In October of 1912, Johnson was convicted for transferring women across state lines for immoral reasons.
Today, Sen. Greg Brower and Assemblyman Harvey Munford introduced a bill to the Senate Committee on Legislative Operations and Elections to pardon Johnson.
Senate Joint Resolution 12 asks the Nevada Legislature to urge President Obama to grant a posthumous pardon for Johnson. No other states are currently asking for such a pardon, but both Brower and Munford plan to ask for the support of the nation. Sens. Harry Reid and John McCain are also calling for the pardon.
There have been past attempts to have Johnson pardoned, including a bill in 2008 that called for President George W. Bush to pardon him. That bill passed in the House but died in the Senate.
Both Brower and Munford believe that because of the significance Reno played in Johnson’s career, Nevada should be the one fighting for his pardon. Brower said the passing of the bill would be symbolically important and a chance for the government to make up for the past.
Committee chairwoman Pat Spearman said, “This legislative session will be known for civil rights and equality.” The room, full of people waiting for the hearing on Senate Joint Resolution 13, cheered.
The committee unanimously passed the bill. The request will go to the President’s desk.