The most iconic member of the Magnificent 40s makes the transition. Long live the spirit of Muhammad Ali.
“Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it.” – Dr. Frantz Fanon
Muhammad Ali was part of a group of Afrikans in America who I call the Magnificent 40s, people born during the 1940s, who rose up during the 1960s to challenge and change the world as they knew it. Ali became the most iconic figure of that group of people, contributing enormously to our rising consciousness and activism during the late 1960s/70s.
He was young, brash, and incredibly talented coming into the sports arena where Willie Mays, Jim Brown, and Bill Russell were our reigning heroes. I wasn’t a fan of boxing, although I remember, after we finally got a television, watching the Friday Night Fights, and my grandmother pulling for Sugar Ray Robinson. The only thing I remember about the 1960 Olympics was Wilma Rudolph winning every race she entered.
I didn’t pay that much attention to Cassius Clay as he floated and stung his way into heavyweight championship contention. Everyone said he had no chance against Sonny Liston, but he shocked the world by winning that fight. Then he dropped a bombshell by announcing his membership in the Nation of Islam, and his new name, Cassius X. Everyone in my family thought he was crazy.
My mother had been a member of the NAACP. After one meeting or rally, she came home talking about listening to Robert Williams speak about the struggle in nearby “Klan-infested” Monroe, NC, as she described it. I stayed abreast of the Civil Rights Movement via the corporate media, and what I read in the Afro American newspaper, which my grandmother purchased (although she could not read) to get the weekly tips on the butter, the eggs, and the race (the numbers), which she played daily. Based on my limited knowledge, the NOI represented separatism, while the majority of the people socializing me (my family, school, and church) favored desegregation or integration.
Driven by consciousness, conviction, commitment, and courage Muhammad Ali defied the white supremacist American warfare state and its body of superficial patriots.
Then, in 1966 Stokely Carmichael hit us with Black Power, and everything changed for me. Muhammad Ali became a symbol of Black Power in my mind. People from my segregated community were being killed in Vietnam. Ali’s defiance, and sacrifice made sense. Dr. Martin L. King joined the antiwar movement, and it did not matter to me what the media reported, he was killed by the white power structure. I joined the Black Panther Party when a chapter was established in Charlotte in 1968. Ali, Stokley, and Huey P. Newton all spoke against the War in Vietnam. We were all in a struggle for survival and power.
Muhammad Ali leaves the Armed Forces induction center with his entourage after refusing to be drafted into the Armed Forces in Houston, Texas, April 28, 1967. (AP Photo)
One day during the fall of 1970 I was walking across the campus at Morehouse when word spread like wildfire that Muhammad Ali was in the area. Ali was in Atlanta to fight Jerry Quarry after finally being given a license to resume his career. I joined the mad rush, and there, walking down Chestnut Street, with his brother Rahman and an entourage, was Muhammad Ali himself. I didn’t follow the crowd as Ali continued his walk. Catching a glimpse of the great man was enough for me. He destroyed Quarry during the fight. Ali was back, and every one of fights for the next five years represented our struggle against white power, although most of his opponents were other Afrikan men.
Over those five years Muhammad Ali won and lost fights and titles, shocking the world again by beating the seemingly indomitable George Foreman in 1974. I hoped that Ali would retire after beating Joe Frazier in the “Thrilla in Manila.” There was nothing left to prove in the ring but, there was a colossal struggle still be be waged in America society. Instead, he kept fighting, far too long past his prime as it turned out.
Ali’s fade coincided with the demise of the Black Liberation Movement, which was under assault by the United States government. As Ali moved to help people in other arena’s, the long and protracted struggle continues with Muhammad Ali’s consciousness, conviction, commitment, and courage as a model to emulate.
Long Live The Spirit of Muhammad Ali