He was known as the Galveston Giant—a boxer who fought his way toward the first world heavyweight title held by an African-American. But inJack Johnson became something else: a wanted man. Now, 72 years after his death, President Trump has pardoned Johnson. Also known as the White-Slave Traffic Act ofthe law was invoked over and over again to punish black men for their relationships with white women—affairs that challenged the racial status quo. Reformers worried that women who appeared in public without men were being forced into prostitution by gangs who trafficked in young girls.
When he beat a white boxer, undefeated heavyweight champion James J. Jeffries, in a highly publicized bout init triggered race riots. It also made law enforcement take a closer look at Johnson, who was known for his flamboyant behavior and lavish spending.
A decade before the supreme court ruled in favor of interracial marriage, the rat packer risked losing his career—and his life
Though Johnson was in a consensual relationship with Cameron and would soon marry her, prosecutors used the accusation as a pretext. As Chicago police arrested him for kidnapping, federal prosecutors assembled a grand jury to investigate his relationships with white women.
Lucille Cameron with her mother Mrs. Cameron Falconet, There was just one problem—Cameron, who was in love with Johnson, refused to say anything that incriminated him. Then, prosecutors found out Cameron had been a prostitute, which undermined her credibility as a witness.
They dropped the case temporarily, but not before the public caught wind of it. Defiant, Johnson refused to serve his sentence.
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He went to Canada with Cameron, then fled to Europe and lived abroad for seven years. Johnson spent some of his time in exile defending his heavyweight title, but was defeated by white boxer Jess Willard in a bout in Cuba in Eventually, Johnson did return to the United States, and he was forced to serve his sentence in After his release from prison, he tried to revitalize his career, but struggled to remain relevant.
Jack Johnson with his second wife Lucille Cameron, Meanwhile, the Mann Act remained in effect. During the first half of the 20th century, the law was primarily used to prosecute men crossing state borders with underage women or during premarital or extramarital affairs.
Infor example, Charlie Chaplin was prosecuted—and eventually acquitted—for buying train fare for his girlfriend, Joan Berry, with the intent of transporting her across state lines within the context of a consensual relationship in The law also remained a potent tool against black men whose relationships with white women infuriated white supremacists.
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InChuck Berry was prosecuted under the Mann Act for employing—and allegedly instigating a sexual relationship with—a year-old white girl, Janice Escalanti. A Mann Act accusation and three trials followed. Berry as a sexual predator, and the outcomes seem, to some degree, racially motivated.
But though its meaning has changed, the legacy of the Mann Act persists. Whether the law was applied fairly or not, prosecutors succeeded in punishing a prominent African-American man for his love life.
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