The pardon of Johnson was the fourth of Trump's term.
In a scene that recalled his time surrounded by fading celebrities on Celebrity Apprentice, Donald Trump welcomed Sylvester Stallone and former heavyweight champ Lennox Lewis to the White House Thursday.
"It's my honor to do it. Had a tough life", Trump said.
Johnson was arrested in October 1912 for violating the Mann Act, which outlaws the transportation of women across state lines for "immoral" purposes. The Mann Act purported to prevent human trafficking for the goal of prostitution, but critics have argued it was applied inconsistently to criminalize African Americans and those with dissenting political views. The actor, best known for portraying boxer Rocky Balboa, called Trump urging him to grant the pardon. His trials and tribulations were great, his life complex and controversial. Others have looked at this over the years, most thought it would be done, but yes, I am considering a Full Pardon!
The Oval Office ceremony was a celebratory scene, bringing together boxing greats past, present and fictional.
During the announcement, Stallone - who famously depicted a boxer in the 1977 film Rocky - lifted his head upwards and said: "Keep punching, Jack".
Well, you know, to me, this is something we have been advocating for, for an awfully long time. He served almost a year in prison in Leavenworth, Kansas, and never again fought for the world title.
Johnson died in 1946, after angrily speeding away from a diner in North Carolina that either refused to serve black people or tried to force him to sit outside.
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Linda Haywood, Johnson's great-great niece, said her family had been "deeply ashamed that my uncle went to prison" and thanked the president for "rewriting history".
Johnson's cause had attracted a range of supporters, including Senator John McCain and the filmmaker Ken Burns, who made a documentary about the case in 2005 called "Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson".
Johnson defeated James Jeffries, a white boxer, in a major boxing match in 1910.
Trump admitted that Stallone had insisted that there be no press for the signing, but chose to anyway.
"I believe Jack Johnson is a worthy person to receive a pardon, to correct a wrong in our history", Trump said.
"For years, Congress has overwhelmingly supported legislation calling on multiple US presidents to right this historical wrong and restore this great athlete's legacy", McCain wrote. "It's about time", Trump said during the ceremony in the Oval Office.
Posthumous pardons are rare, but not unprecedented. The first African-American heavyweight champion of the world, a truly great fighter.
Johnson fled the U.S. and spent seven years in exile in Canada, Europe and Mexico during World War I. During his time away from the U.S., Johnson lost his heavyweight champion title to Jess Willard in Cuba. But in late 2009, Robert Gibbs, the president's press secretary, told reporters that the Justice Department had recommended against a pardon. "The pardon announced today helps correct an injustice experienced by Jack Johnson". But Trump has shown a willingness to work around the DOJ process in the past.