Muhammad Ali The Greatest

Muhammad Ali (ne Cassius Clay), after a surprisingly long life, finally has succumbed to the results of the rigors of his trade in the boxing ring. For the past decades, he was a pitifully impotent shell of his former, robust self.

As an adult, I have had no interest in boxing. However, living in South Carolina in the last part of the 1930s, the most exciting times I recall were listening to the radio broadcasts of the great Joe Louis boxing bouts. Along with other pre-pubescents and folks of all ages, we would gather around a radio, hoisted high, on the outside of a neighborhood store. We cheered loudly as the, “Brown Bomber” (“Black” was offensive in those days) masterfully boxed his opponent to what we knew was to be a knockout by Louis. Heroes were few for us the marginalized, so we grabbed them where we could. The inarticulate Joe had little to offer outside the ring, but his thrusts and jabs fit the bill for our purposes. Joe Louis, unlike Mohammad Ali, dutifully entered a segregated Army during WWII, and did the business of his exploitative, White masters.

Although desegregation of the Army had taken place by Ali’s time, he would have none of it. White Supremacy still reigned in the civilian world. By then, senses and sensibilities had risen to a fever pitch. One of the ways to bring those inequities to the fore was graphically to point that out, while refusing to serve an ungrateful nation. That is what Muhammad Ali did. It caused a furor, and he paid for it in legal and professional terms. It took a Supreme Court ruling to clear his name.

After his change of name, the big blabbermouth could not be quieted. He rattled on and rambled on in and outside of the ring. I detested Ali’s pompous swagger, but applauded him for sticking up for himself and his race.

With maturity, Ali became more publicly tolerable. He did good works and was a laudable citizen. Probably the most lasting image of Ali was when, in his debilitated state, he lit the torch for the 1996 Olympic Games.

Ali Olympics

***** ***** *****

Hail, Cassius, your work here is done.
The Coliseum wars you have won.
When they call your name,
Try hard not to claim
To have been the best under the sun!

Curtis W. Long

Curtis W. Long

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