Mann Act

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The White-Slave Traffic Act of 1910 (ch. 395, 36 Stat. 825; codified as amended at 18 U.S.C. § 24212424), better known as the Mann Act after Congressman James Robert Mann, is a United States law which in its original form prohibited white slavery and the interstate transport of females for “immoral purposes”. Its primary stated intent was to address prostitution, immorality, and human trafficking. While its ambiguous immorality language allowed selective prosecutions for many years, it was later amended by Congress to apply only to transport for the purpose of prostitution or illegal sexual acts.[1]



The most common use of the Mann Act was to prosecute men for having sex with underage women.[2] It was also used to harass others who had drawn the authorities' wrath for "immoral" behavior.

The first person prosecuted under the act was African-American heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson in a case with strong racist overtones.[3] He had had an interracial affair with a white prostitute named Lucille Cameron, but she refused to cooperate with the prosecution; Johnson later married her. Less than a month later he was re-arrested for having crossing a state line, before the Mann Act was passed, with Belle Schreiber, a prostitute who had left a brothel. She testified against him, and Johnson was convicted and sentenced to the maximum penalty of a year and a day in prison.

Pioneering sociologist William I. Thomas's academic career at the University of Chicago was irreversibly damaged after he was arrested under the act when caught in the company of one Mrs. Granger, the wife of an army officer with the American forces in France. Thomas was acquitted at trial.

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