African-American Issues

Muhammad Ali and the Civil Rights Movement

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Hating people because of their color is wrong. And it doesn't matter which color does the hating. It's just plain wrong."- Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali was born Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr. on January 17, 1942 in Louisville, Kentucky. Clay began boxing at the age of twelve. He began fighting in the amateur ranks. In the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome, he won a gold medal in the 175-pound division. Clay began fighting in the professional league. In October 1960, in his first professional heavyweight fight against Tunney Hunsaker, he won. He won his next eighteen fights, fifteen by knockout. On March 6, 1964, Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr. announced that he has converted to Islam and has changed his name to Muhammad Ali, a name that was given to him by Elijah Muhammad. This became so controversial, many high profile news papers including the New York Times refused to acknowledge his new name when writing about him. On April 28, 1967, when drafted in the U.S. Army during the war in Vietnam, he refused to go. For Ali believed that the war was immoral. He believed that since blacks did not experience equality at home, for them to serve in the war was a "perversion of justice". Ali famously said in 1966: "I ain't got no quarrel with them Viet Cong ... They never called me nigger." Ali was granted conscientious objector status because of his beliefs, but after he stated that he was not against all wars and would participate in an Islamic holy war, he no longer qualified. He was then fined ten thousand dollars, and sentenced to five years in prison, and his heavyweight title and license to box was taken away. Four years later, his conviction was overturned by the U.S. Supreme court because of procedural grounds.

Muhammad Ali continued to be not only a fighter in the ring but a fighter for civil rights as well. So, during the civil rights movement Ali found himself defending his new name and battling issues of race and class. He became a known icon in the struggle for civil rights. Ali's message of black pride and black resistance to white domination was a great impact on the civil rights movement. Ali defied the US government and alienated mainstream America because he stood up for his principles. Muhammad Ali, at the age 63, was awarded the Otto Hahn peace medal for his ''lifelong engagement in the American civil rights movement and the global cultural emancipation of blacks, as well as his work as a U.N. Goodwill ambassador,'' the organization said.

I am America. I am the part you won't recognize, but get used to me. Black, confident, cocky - my name, not yours. My religion, not yours. My goals, my own. Get used to me." - Muhammad Ali

More about this author: Trinity Waters

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