AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Some members of Congress have put aside partisan sparring in defense of a legendary fighter. Republican Senator John McCain and Democratic Senator Harry Reid are among those calling for a posthumous pardon for the heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson. Johnson became the first black man to win that title back in 1908. His next win in 1910 sparked race riots and his relationships with white women added to the controversy.
Here's actor Samuel L. Jackson as Johnson in the 2005 Ken Burns documentary, "Unforgivable Blackness."
(SOUNDBITE FROM FILM "UNFORGIVABLE BLACKNESS")
SAMUEL L. JACKSON: (As Jack Johnson) Prejudices were being piled up against me and certain unfair persons, piqued because I was champion, decided that if they could not get me one way, they would another.
CORNISH: Johnson was arrested and convicted by an all-white jury of violating the Mann Act. The law banned taking women across state lines for immoral purpose. Today, lawmakers say that conviction was racially motivated and they've introduced a resolution calling on President Obama to pardon Jack Johnson. It's something they've requested before. In 2009, the Justice Department said its general policy is not to process pardon requests for people who have died. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.