Muhammad Ali: Free Black Man
Publisher: Against the Current
Date Written: 01/07/2016
Year Published: 2016
Resource Type: Article
Cx Number: CX21443
Muhammad Ali spoke truth to power. Even after he became ill with Parkinson's disease and eventually lost much of his verbal skills, he stood by his militant spirit and youth. He never apologized for his words or action.
Ali was born in segregated Louisville, Kentucky in 1942. He knew the history of racism - lived it - and understood that as a Black man he was considered by whites in his own state as second class. Yet those chains never held him back.
In 1960 after winning the gold medal as the light heavyweight champion at the Rome Olympics, he went downtown to eat at a whites-only diner. It didn't matter that he won the gold. He was still a Black man and was not served.
On April 18, 1967 he refused to be drafted into the U.S. Army. He said it was against his religious beliefs. He was in the prime of his professional boxing career and lost easily millions of dollars. His action at a drafting center in Houston, Texas was brave and without modern precedent.
Some of the most prominent Black athletes of the day - football star Jim Brown, basketball great Lew Alcindor (later Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and others - tried to get him to change his mind.
After a two-hour closed door meeting, Ali won them over to support his right to be a conscientious objector. In a tribute Abdul-Jabbar wrote for Time magazine after Ali's passing, he said, "While I admired the athlete of action, it was the man of principle who was truly my role model."