Democrats & Liberals Archives

Muhammad Ali: Rest in Peace

Last weekend, America lost one of its greatest heroes, a man not scared of controversy. Muhammad Ali transcended the boxing ring, with activism expressing opposition to the Vietnam War and the segregationist policies that dominated much of the country in the mid-twentieth century.

My personal introduction to Ali came in the 1996 Summer Olympics. I was barely in elementary school and this was the first time I watched an Olympic Ceremony. Watching an apparently frail man, arm jostling uncontrollably, did not make sense to me. I asked my Mom who this man was, and she replied, "an American Hero". It was only later that I would learn why she thought this.

Born Cassius Clay, Ali first rose to fame for his exploits in the 1960 olympics, where he won a gold medal for his boxing prowess. However, that young boxer would grow up to reject many of the institutions created by his white brethren. Instead, he sought to develop parallel systems in order to instill confidence within Black America. This began with Ali's conversion to Islam, the probable faith of his West African Ancestors. With that came a new name, Muhammad Ali, while his birth name was discarded alongside rest of Jim Crow's legacy.

But private transformation became public controversy when Ali followed in the steps of Malcom X and began advocating in favor of Black nationalist polices. This game to a head when Ali claimed conscientious objector status to avoid serving in the Vietnam War. Like Martin Luther King Jr., Ali did not feel that the war served American interests. Unlike King, Ali put his position in clearly racially divisive terms, claiming that he had no feud with the Vietcong; after all, none of them had ever tried to make him live as a second class citizen or called him offensive names. For Ali, Vietnam was a war devised by white men that only served white American interests. That said, Ali ultimately had his boxing titles stripped and was even condemned to prison.

Fortunately, Ali was rehabilitated during the 1970s, and after defeating George Foreman in Kinshasa, Ali regained his heavyweight title. Afterwards, Ali managed to maintain critical political influence. This became critically important as America has begun to face terrorist threats from followers of perverted versions of Islam. From his artful condemnation of the 9/11 attacks to his salient response to the attacks in Paris & San Bernardino last year. Skillfully, Ali manages to defend his faith, American ideals and condemn those who would undermine everything that has made our country great.

The rise of Black nationalism has brought both good and bad to our race relations and we will never be able to evaluate the counterfactual where MLK's ideas of racial unity never had to compete with Malcom X's ideas of separation. Nevertheless, Muhammad Ali was a forceful agent for social change which is quite remarkable for a man who first came to prominence for his ability to "float like a butterfly and sting like a bee".

Posted by Warren Porter at June 7, 2016 10:15 AM
Comments
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Comment #405164

WP, thanks for the tribute paid to this great athlete, person, and citizen of our country. My introduction to Ali was when he was known as Cassius Clay and he was an awesome athlete, to say the least. He wasn’t readily accepted by “white america” because he was loud and proud to be a man of color and citizen of the USA. This non-acceptance turned quickly to hatred and derision when he announced his conversion to Islam. I am reminded of the same attitude towards him that I see a lot today towards our President. As a liberal progressive, I took and take great pleasure in both of their abilities to scorn the attitudes of superiority expressed by people who chose and choose to deride them.

Posted by: Speak4all at June 8, 2016 10:34 AM
Comment #405168

S4A,

One of Ali’s enduring legacies is going to be the question of integration vs assimilation. Integration means recognition and embrace of the differences between people whereas assimilation is about ignoring those differences and pushing every person into a cookie cutter culture. Ali boldly chose to accept the former while eschewing the latter. To this day, we continue to debate those two ideas.

Posted by: Warren Porter at June 8, 2016 2:06 PM
Comment #405169

WP, he was a man for the times that was before his time. He took us places we had not thought possible from my perspective. He could have been an athlete only and rested on his laurels, but he chose to be a force for change at great personal sacrifice. I think your mother got it absolutely correct. He was and is “an American Hero”.

Strange how we continue to debate the ideas that you so eloquently described, but perhaps this conversation or debate really began when people started to accept the dictates of their existence and how that compared to their understanding of their human dignity and the dignity of other humans (civilization). I expect this debate to continue for a variety of causes or ideas long after you and I are unable to participate. Thanks again for your recognition of a true American Hero.

Posted by: Speak4all at June 8, 2016 2:24 PM
Comment #405172

I feel that in the long run, the Ali side is going to melt away. Eventually, intermarriage will blur all the distinctions he valiantly fought to preserve.

Posted by: Warren Porter at June 8, 2016 3:49 PM
Comment #405459

Rest in Peace, The People’s Champion Muhammad Ali. Your name, your success will become legend of all times.
Thank you for the post.

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