‘Shoot them for what?’ How Muhammad Ali won his greatest fight

Former Cleveland Browns Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown presides over a meeting of athletes who supported boxer Muhammad Ali’s refusal to fight in Vietnam on June 4, 1967. In the front row: Bill Russell, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown and Lew Alcindor.

“A little before 8 a.m. on April 28, 1967, Muhammad Ali arrived at the Armed Forces Induction Center in Houston. The Vietnam War was raging, American soldiers were dying by the hundreds, protesters were burning draft cards and conscientious objectors were fleeing to Canada. Ali had no intention of fleeing to Canada, but he also had no intention of serving in the Army. ‘My conscience won’t let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people, or some poor hungry people in the mud for big powerful America,’ he had explained two years earlier. ‘And shoot them for what? They never called me nigger, they never lynched me, they didn’t put no dogs on me, they didn’t rob me of my nationality, rape and kill my mother and father. … Shoot them for what? How can I shoot them poor people? Just take me to jail.’ Instead the heavyweight champion emerged from a cab in a metallic blue silk suit. Reporters surrounded him. Ali was a magnificent, walking quote machine, often speaking in rhyme and famously antagonizing his opponents with eerily precise predictions of the round in which he would eventually defeat them. ‘This is the legend of Cassius Clay, the most beautiful fighter in the world today,’ Ali had announced before his title match in 1964. ‘The brash young boxer is something to see, and the heavyweight championship is his destiny.’ … Inside the induction center in Houston, Ali, a Muslim convert, refused to step forward when the name he’d been given at birth — Cassius Clay — was called. … Ali replied, of course he understood. The officer ushered Ali out and once again a lieutenant called his name: ‘Mr. Cassius Clay, you will please step forward and be inducted into the United States Army.’ Ali refused to budge. Minutes later, Ali appeared outside the induction center and handed out a statement: ‘It is in the light of my consciousness as a Muslim minister and my own personal convictions that I take my stand in rejecting the call to be inducted. … I find I cannot be true to my beliefs in my religion by accepting such a call. I am dependent upon Allah as the final judge of those actions brought about by my own conscience.’ …”
Washington Post (Video)
The Atlantic: Muhammad Ali and Vietnam (Video)

Muhammad Ali (Cassius Clay), the deposed world heavyweight boxing champion, told an anti-war rally at the University of Chicago on May 11, 1967 that there is a difference between fighting in the ring and fighting in Vietnam.

About 1960s: Days of Rage

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This entry was posted in Draft board, Pacifist, Religion, Sports, Vietnam War and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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