“I was 12 years old when I got into boxing through weird twist of fate. I grew up in a rough part of Louisville and my bike was stolen. I told my story to Joe Martin, a local police officer and boxing trainer. Martin told me I better learn to fight if I wanted to beat up whoever stole my bike. From that point on, I fought for the rest of my life. ” Muhammad Ali who was born, Cassius Clay Jr. in the extremely segregated city of Louisville, Kentucky. He became a world-renowned athlete winning the light-heavy weight Olympic medal at age eighteen and becoming the youngest ever Heavyweight Champion of the world ever.
Ali’s achievements in the ring were unrivaled as a champion but they did not match the historic actions he led outside of it. When Ali lost his boxing license due to his refusal to submit to the military draft, he started an anti-war movement that would change the future of the draft and America’s view and voice on war. Ali created name awareness, brand, and fame that remains unparalleled today. Ali, one of the greatest athletes of all time used his fame as a boxer to convey his message and influence his followers.
Ali was not only against the war but he also fought against prejudice and racism. Muhammad Ali operated and felt that the world was against him, but by following the principles and values of his religion and acting on what he believed to be right, he could change the world by speaking the truth about the world he lived in. Ali’s powerful decisions changed the future of America by becoming a pioneer of the anti-war movement, highlighting black identity in an extremely white America, and using his name as a brand to influence his followers for expanded civil rights.
Born on January 17, 1942 Ali was apart of a family of six. He grew up in the midst of segregation in the racist city of Louisville, Kentucky. His father painted billboards and posters while his mother was a domestic helper. He grew up poor and at the town the best job an African American could earn in his city was a high school. Ali was extremely affected by the racism in his town vividly remembering when restaurant would not give him a drink due to his skin color. At the age of twelve and made his amateur boxing debut in 1954.
Winning by split decision, Ali was champion as an amateur and he continued to dominate and get his name out to the public as he won the gold medal in the 1960 Olympics. Ali claims to have thrown that medal into the Ohio River after being denied service at an all white restaurant. Ali’s childhood moved him to get his word out there and find a new spiritual faith. In 1964 Muhammad Ali publically acknowledged that he was apart of the Islam religious movement and his name would no longer be Cassius Clay, but Now Muhammad Ali.
His change in religion led him on a new path and affected the decision he made on the Vietnam War and feelings about racial inequality and prejudices against his religion. March 8, 1965 marked the United States official entrance into the Vietnam War. Over fifty percent of the country supported the War until Ali’s resistance and voice was heard on the war. In April of 1967, Ali publicly refused being drafted into the army for the Vietnam War. He did so because of his religious beliefs.
In a nationally televised interview Ali was asked about the war and being drafted, and his immediate response was, “Man I ain’t got no quarrel with them viet cong. “I got nothing against no Viet Cong. No Vietnamese ever called me a negro. ” Immediately following his “I ain’t got no quarrel” speech, the support for the war dropped below fifty percent and two months later Ali was convicted of draft dodging driving the national support for the war even lower, to a staggering twenty-seven percent.
Before Ali, Americans saw draft dodging as a cowardly act, yet so many young men from wealth and means were able to avoid commitment to the military. Twenty-five percent of all men drafted into the military to support the war were considered poor and another fifty-five percent of the draftees were members of working class. Ali’s decision and public stand inspired so many young men, but he was not able to do so with out taking flack from traditional Americans and the establishment. Some of the people outwardly against Ali included, the great Jackie Robinson and famous sports writer Jim Murray whom called Ali, “A White Man’s Burden.
The pressure from Jackie Robinson who he himself had crossed the color barrier in major league baseball, did not prevent Ali from making his truthful, powerful comments on the war by describing the draft in an interview, “The government had a system where the rich man’s son went to college, and the poor man’s son went to war,” (Wiggins) As The Anti-War movement grew so did Ali’s support. Martin Luther King Jr. and Muhammad Ali each had the common goal with their commitments to be against the war and social equality.
In a speech, Martin Luther King stated, “Every man that finds this war objectionable and unjust, must admire Muhammad Ali no matter his religion or his race. ” Ali’s word went viral, even without the aids of technology and millions of Americans came together to support Ali and the fight against the government’s unjust draft system. Ali’s court case lasted a full five years and while battling it out with the government he had his boxing license revoked in the United States and was denied a travel visa to travel to other countries to fight.
As a result of the five year battle with the United States Federal Government, Ali lost tens of millions of dollars while holding his ground on his religious values and the draft. With pressure mounting on the government a much older, Ali was finally allowed to get back into the ring in a 1970 matchup, against “a great white hope”, Jerry Quarry, in Atlanta Georgia. Ali won the fight and one year later Muhammad Ali won the case, Clay v. United States, by a unanimous eight to zero vote.
The resistance to the war was both a religious and political stand. While Ali was fighting the military draft, he was also promoting and advocating the famous 1960s civil rights movement. Muhammad Ali never backed Down from the fight against racial discriminations and helped drive the civil rights movement. Muhammad Ali began speaking out on the civil rights movement in the early 1960s. In 1962 Ali joined the radical black movement and then in 1964 the Nation of Islam (NOI). Once apart of the NOI he was given the new name Muhammad Ali.
He soon left the NOI and became a Sunni Muslim. Once given the Muhammad Ali he went on to famously say, “Cassius Clay is a slave name. I did not choose it, and I did not want it. I am Muhammad Ali, a free name – it means beloved of God – and I insist people use it when speaking to me and of me. ” (Staufenburg, 1) After changing his name he was still called Cassius Clay by the ignorant people of the boxing world.
Ernie Terrel, an opponent referred to Ali by his birth name, Ali snapped back yelling, “”What’s my name, Uncle Tom? His changing of the name cause many people to ridicule him. Ali made slave reference through his life in order to call out the extremely white America at the time. When given his prison sentence he responded by saying, “ so what we black people have been in prison for 400 years. ” Ali continued to have strong opinions about the relations between races and in the U. S and how he was treated as child. Ali’s disgust for racial inequality in our country and faith drove him to refuse the draft.
He felt that he was being asked to travel 10,000 miles away from his home to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over. In 1967 Dr. Martin Luther King sided with Ali about the issued in the country and spoke out against the president by stating, “Like Muhammad Ali puts it, we are all- black and brown and poor- victims of the same system of oppression. ” Oppression is a gentle word he African Americans of this country were preserving through to have their voices heard.
During the 1960s civil rights movement Ali established black power to an extremely by speaking his voice and using the fame he earned through successful boxing career. Muhammad Ali, a phenom in the ring remained famous after retirement and continued to change the world. Ali officially retired at the age of forty in 1981. After his career was finished he began suffering from Parkinson’s disease. It was speculated that he contracted the disease from to many blows to the head. Even though ill Ali remained focused on making the world a better place.
In 1985 he traveled to Lebanon in an unsuccessful attempt to secure the release of U. S. hostages, and in 1990 he traveled to Baghdad, Iraq, on a similar mission, this time successfully. By this time Ali was loved by all and seen as an American hero. In 1996 he was chosen to light the Olympic torch at Atlanta games. By 2000 Ali’s health was beginning to rapidly decline. He and actor Michael J. Fox worked on a foundation to get donations for research toward Parkinson’s disease. In November of 2002 Ali traveled to Afghanistan for goodwill mission as a special guest of the UN.
In 2012 twelve Ali was once again celebrated at the London Olympics. His health was at an all time worse in 2013. He battled through countless infections and was barely able to speak. On June 3rd, 2016 Ali died at the Age of 74. Ali’s life will forever be remembered. Through his career he won countless awards including the BET Humanitarian of the year. The impact Ali had on others changed the world. He was a humanitarian, philanthropist, activist, and boxer. He empowered the oppressed and spoke out against an unnecessary war and corrupt government.
Many sports writers feel that Ali had a greater impact on race and our religion our country than Martin Luther King. Ali will always be known as one of the best boxers of all time but his achievements outside of the ring make him so unique and special. Ali lived by the notorious quote, “He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life. ” His goal was to change the world for those who are viewed as different and he did so through his lionhearted acts of speaking out against the government.