Almost everyone will agree that Muhammad Ali was a great boxer – “the greatest”, in his own words. But he wasn’t just a great boxer, he was a great man.
He fought not just with his fists, but also with his words. He used his fame and reputation to champion justice and the rights of the black community, making him a hero for every generation. Ali strove throughout his life for the ideals that he held dear. He may not have been the most modest of men, but he certainly was a radical, as the following eight quotations demonstrate.
1. ” See, we have been brainwashed. Everything good and of authority was made white. We look at Jesus, we see a white man with blonde hair and blue eyes. We look at all the angels, we see white with blonde hair and blue eyes. Now, I’m sure if there’s a heaven in the sky and the colored folks die and go to heaven, where are the colored angels? They must be in the kitchen preparing the milk and honey. We look at Miss America, we see white. We look at Miss World, we see white. We look at Miss Universe, we see white. Even Tarzan, the king of the jungle in black Africa, he’s white!”
This quotation comes from an excellent speech given by Ali at Howard University in 1967. He shows, here, the systemic inequalities and prejudices in societies across the West – prejudices that, whether subconscious or not, are still worryingly prevalent in the 21st Century. The speech has now become known as his ‘Black is Best’ speech because of the way he railed against these prejudiced stereotypes and fought for the recognition of black people’s achievements. “The blacker the berry, the sweeter the fruit,” he once said.
2. “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… I will not disgrace my religion, my people or myself by becoming a tool to enslave those who are fighting for their own justice, freedom and equality… 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.”
One of the things that Ali is most famous for, other than his boxing, was for his public stance against the Vietnam War in 1966. He refused to fight for moral reasons, despite knowing that his refusal could cost him his boxing titles, his money, and even his liberty. Continue reading