I have seen so many amazing photos, videos, and quotes from Muhammad Ali in the past 12 hours that it’s impossible to curate even a fraction of them, but this quote is perhaps the one I personally feel is most relevant to the political sphere today:
Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on Brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights? No I’m not going 10,000 miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over. This is the day when such evils must come to an end. I have been warned that to take such a stand would cost me millions of dollars. But I have said it once and I will say it again. The real enemy of my people is here. I will not disgrace my religion, my people or myself by become a tool to enslave those who are fighting for their own justice, freedom and equality… If I thought the was was going to bring freedom and equality to 22 million of my people they wouldn’t have to draft me, I’d join tomorrow. I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs. So I’ll go to jail, so what? We’ve been in jail for 400 years.
An incredible, yet succinct, example of his living synthesis of faith, identity, and justice. He was truly a warrior in every sense of the word.
Inna Lillahi wa inna ilaihi raji’un
UPDATE: Fantastic tribute in the NYT to Ali – and there have been many tributes lately, indeed – about he was fearless in refusing to be the “white man’s negro”. It oprovides some context to the very real price that Ali paid for his principled stance above:
Converting to the Nation of Islam at the age of 22, immediately after winning the heavyweight championship from Sonny Liston, he denounced his “slave name” (Cassius Marcellus Clay, which was also his father’s name) and the Christian religion; in refusing to serve in the Army he made his political reasons clear: “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Vietcong.”
An enormous backlash followed: where the young boxer had been cheered, now he was booed. Denunciations rained upon his head. Respected publications, including The New York Times, continued to print the “slave name” Cassius Clay for years. Sentenced to five years’ imprisonment for his refusal to comply with the draft, Ali stood his ground; he did not serve time, but was fined $10,000 and his boxing license was revoked so that he could not continue his professional career, in the very prime of that career. In a gesture of sheer pettiness the State Department took away his passport so that he couldn’t fight outside the country. After he was reinstated as a professional boxer three and a half years later, he had lost much of his youthful agility. Yet he’d never given in.
The heart of the champion is this: One never repudiates one’s deepest values, one never gives in.