Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Muhammad Ali and the Vietnam War

“I Ain't Got No Quarrel With The VietCong...No VietCong Ever Called Me Nigger.”
Muhammad Ali

On 28 April 1967, Muhammad Ali refused to be inducted into the U.S. Army - not without consequences. Muhammad Ali was stripped of his heavyweight title and his passport, was convicted of draft evasion (it took the jury twenty minutes to convict him), sentenced to five years prison, fined $10.000,- and banned from boxing in the United States for three-and-a-half years (via and via).

“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 becoming a tool to enslave those who are fighting for their own justice, freedom and equality. If I thought the war 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.”
Muhammad Ali

“I ain’t draft dodging. I ain’t burning no flag. I ain’t running to Canada. I’m staying right here. You want to send me to jail? Fine, you go right ahead. I’ve been in jail for 400 years. I could be there for 4 or 5 more, but I ain’t going no 10,000 miles to help murder and kill other poor people. If I want to die, I’ll die right here, right now, fightin’ you, if I want to die. You my enemy, not no Chinese, no Vietcong, no Japanese. You my opposer when I want freedom. You my opposer when I want justice. You my opposer when I want equality. Want me to go somewhere and fight for you? You won’t even stand up for me right here in America, for my rights and my religious beliefs. You won’t even stand up for my rights here at home.
Muhammad Ali

“I can’t take part in nothing where I’d help the shooting of dark Asiatic people, who haven’t lynched me, deprived me of my freedom, justice and equality, or assassinated my leaders.”
Muhammad Ali

“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. 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.”
Muhammad Ali

"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 in the armed services. I do so with the full realization of its implications and possible consequences. I have searched my conscience and I find I cannot be true to my belief in my religion by accepting such a call.
"My decision is a private and individual one and I realize that this is a most crucial decision. In taking it I am dependent solely upon Allah as the final judge of these actions brought about by my own conscience.
"I strongly object to the fact that so many newspapers have given the American public and the world the impression that I have only two alternatives in taking this stand: either I go to jail or go to the Army. There is another alternative and that alternative is justice. If justice prevails, if my Constitutional rights are upheld, I will be forced to go neither to the Army nor jail. In the end I am confident that justice will come my way for the truth must eventually prevail.
"I am looking forward to immediately continuing my profession.
"As to the threat voiced by certain elements to 'strip' me of my title, this is merely a continuation of the same artificially induced prejudice and discrimination.
"Regardless of the difference in my outlook, I insist upon my right to pursue my livelihood in accordance with the same rights granted to other men and women who have disagreed with the policies of whatever Administration was in power at the time.
"I have the world heavyweight title not because it was 'given' to me, not because of my race or religion, but because I won it in the ring through my own boxing ability.
"Those who want to 'take' it and hold a series of auction-type bouts not only do me a disservice but actually disgrace themselves. I am certain that the sports fans and fair-minded people throughout America would never accept such a 'title-holder.'"
Muhammad Ali

“The white man want me hugging on a white women, or endorsing some whiskey, or some skin bleach, lightening the skin when I’m promoting black as best. They want me advertising all this stuff that’d make me rich but hurt so many others. But by me sacrificing a little wealth I’m helping so many others. Little children can come by and meet the champ. Little kids in the alleys and slums of Florida and New York, they can come and see me where they never could walk up on Patterson and Liston. Can’t see them n—–s when they come to town! So the white man see the power in this. He see that I’m getting away with the Army backing offa me ... They see who’s not flying the flag, not going in the Army; we get more respect.”
Muhammad Ali, 1966

"His fight outside the ring would cost him his title and his public standing. It would earn him enemies on the left and the right, make him reviled and nearly send him to jail. But Ali stood his ground. And his victory helped us get used to the America we recognise today." Barack Obama
In 1971, the Supreme Court held that Ali's 1967 conviction had to be reversed as moral and ethical objection to war was as valid as religious objection (via). However, Muhammad Ali's stance had already cost him millions in endorsement money and the prime years of his career. It had also turned him into a national pariah since he had expressed his opinion before the anti-war movement gained steam. Politicians and newspaper editorial writers called him "the most disgusting character" (via). He became one of the most hated public figures and spent the next years "battling for his beliefs in court instead of the ring". Muhammad Ali faced public pressure to accept service and was given opportunities to apologise and join the military. When he declined, some of his allies turned against him - such as the Nation of Islam that disavowed him for "disappointing black war veterans". As time passed, the war became unpopular and support for Ali increased. "His view of the war became America's view of the war" and people wanted to see their hero back in the ring (via).

photographs via and via and via and via


  1. This is beautiful, thanks for this!

    1. His idealism is beautiful. And impressive. Many thanks, Derek!

  2. Replies
    1. He was ahead of his time; what an extraordinary person. Thank you, Karen!