Wilder credits Johnson—the first African-American heavyweight champion—for paving the path of boxing showmanship for fighters like Muhammad Ali and himself.
Heavyweight World Champion Deontay Wilder admires the courage and style of Jack Johnson, the first African-American heavyweight champion.
Johnson endured racial epithets and death threats all the while dominating opponents in the ring and flaunting his opulent lifestyle outside the ring. He set the stage for Muhammad Ali and a score of modern day boxers.
Wilder was honored to be part of a historical afternoon today at the White House when President Donald Trump posthumously pardoned Johnson nearly 100 years after he was convicted of violating the Mann Act in 1913 for transporting a white woman across state lines “for immoral purposes.” Johnson served nearly a year in prison from 1920-21 on the federal charge.
Johnson’s real crime was flaunting his relationship with white women at a time where racial segregation and racial tensions were the order of the day.
Wilder was joined in the Oval Office by former heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis, actor Sylvester Stallone, Johnson’s great-great niece Linda Haywood and WBC President Mauricio Sulaiman as President Trump signed the order for the rare posthumous pardon.
President Trump called Johnson “a truly great fighter [who] had a tough life,” but served 10 months in federal prison “for what many view as a racially-motivated injustice.” Stallone urged the President to pardon Johnson during a conversation in April.
“To be able to be here at the Oval office in Washington, D.C., and to experience the ultimate pardon of Jack Johnson is amazing,” said Wilder, who also visited the White House as a 2008 Olympic bronze medalist.
“Johnson was the first African American heavyweight world champion, so this was definitely a magical moment to remember and one that I never will forget.”
Wilder said he was notified of his invitation to attend the pardoning ceremony “about a week and a half ago.”
“ Even though it’s almost 100 years too late, finally, justice has been served. A wrong was corrected for something that should never have happened, and of all of the presidents, Donald Trump was the one to do it. ” Heavyweight World Champion Deontay Wilder
During what he described as an hour-long ceremony, Wilder spoke to Trump about the pardon and his own career.
“Even though it’s almost 100 years too late, finally, justice has been served. A wrong was corrected for something that should never have happened, and of all of the presidents, Donald Trump was the one to do it,” Wilder said.
Johnson was 68 when he died in a car crash in North Carolina in 1946. He died with the conviction still hanging over his head.
“It’s like a lot of wrongs that have been done to African Americans that don’t get rectified until decades later,” Wilder said. “A lot of people still need to be educated concerning the meaning and significance of this event. We have to remain optimistic, moving forward, and do something important with this to continue to effect change.”
Wilder said the President showed keen interest in his boxing career.
“Donald is a huge fan of boxing, was asking me about my next fight and encouraging me to get the knockout,” said Wilder, who is focused on an undisputed heavyweight championship match against British heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua.
“But on this day in history, I am able to say, forevermore, that I was there for yet another historical achievement to take back to my family and my children and the people of Alabama. I’m able to say that I was there when they pardoned Jack Johnson.”
Wilder said he was proud to carry on the boxing legacy of Johnson.
“Jack Johnson is the one who originated all of the showmanship,” said Wilder. “For that to rub off on Muhammad Ali, and, then, for me to emulate aspects of Muhammad Ali, it’s like history repeating itself. Following their legacies, as an African American world champion, is a huge responsibility.”
- Deontay Wilder