Democracy Now on Muhammad Ali’s 1966 Anti-Vietnam Speech

On Saturday, the world mourned the passing of one of the all-time greatest boxers and sports personalities, Muhammad Ali. Not only was Ali a superb boxer, he was also intelligent and witty. He was known for his trademark rhyme about being Muhammad Ali, ‘dance like a butterfly, sting like a bee’. Parkinson was justifiably proud at having him on his show, along with many other talented, respected and beloved celebrities. Ali was a convert to the Nation of Islam, a Black Muslim religion begun in the 1920s by W.D. Fard, a Syrian immigrant to the US, and notorious a few years ago for what some would consider to be the extreme, anti-White racism of its leader, Louis Farrakhan. The Nation of Islam’s best known representative and Black civil rights leader is Malcolm X, but Ali was certainly one of those, who took part in his people’s struggle for social improvement, respect and equality. He said in an interview that he wanted to give his people a hero. After his boxing career ended, he starred in a film about a Black slave fighting for his freedom during the American Civil War. His last years were marred by Parkinson’s disease, though he was still able to make an appearance at one of the Olympics to light the flame at the beginning of the games.

Mike put up on his site the text of Ali’s speech, in which he refused to go to Vietnam to help the White slave masters oppress another ‘coloured’ people. He stated firmly that if he believed that the War would help the 22 million of his people in America improve their position, he’d volunteer like a shot. But it wasn’t. See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/06/04/say-what-you-like-about-muhammad-ali-he-stood-up-for-what-he-believed/

In this piece from Democracy Now, the musician John Legend reads Ali’s speech in a clip from The People Speak, based on the book Voices from a People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn and Arnold Arnove. The show’s anchor, Amy Goodwin, also talks to Ishmael Reed, the author of The Complete Ali, about the effect the speech and his subsequent prosecution had on Ali’s career. Ali was stripped of his heavyweight title, and then dragged through the courts as the authorities tried to prosecute him for his refusal to enlist. Eventually the case reached the high court, and the sentence of five years in prison was overturned. However, three years had passed, and Ali had also aged. He was passed his peak. Before, his opponents had been unable to hit him. Not they could.

Reed and Goodwin also talk about the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’, the fight between Ali and George Forman, staged by the dictator of Zaire, General Mobutu, which Mobutu himself didn’t attend, probably from fears of assassination. Ishmael points out that Ali played ‘footsie’ with dictators. He fight in Manila is credited with bringing the Philippines into the 20th century, and giving the country and its people a new respect and dignity. While this certainly enhanced the prestige of the country’s dictator, General Marcos, to the chagrin of the Aquino family, Ali himself took a break from the fight to go and meet the country’s rebels during Ramadan.

Rest in Peace, big man.

Here’s the video:

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