Dr. Ken Morgan

I first met Muhammad Ali when I was a 23-year-old newly minted 6’7’student athlete graduate of Temple University. 

He visited the matinee performance of the off-Broadway Buck White play at the Locust Theatre in Philly circa 1968.  He was in the “City of Brotherly Love” to preview a part he was going to play on Broadway as “Big Time Buck White”.  Our greeting took place in a brief moment.  

Okay, here’s the story.  As he walked up the aisle after he was introduced in his “I am the greatest gait”, I stuck my hand out in the aisle and mumbled words of support to him regarding his stand on the draft and the subsequent charges meted against him.  He said, “Thank you boss”.  I really did not like the boss moniker.

What saved me from reaching into the stereotype of a “brash big mouth” was the indelible mark the brother made on my learning curve.  Ali said in an interview after his historic draft refusal, “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. “

He went on to say, “They never called me nigger, they never lynched me, they didn’t put any dogs on me, and they didn’t rob me of my nationality, rape and kill my mother and father.”

His courageous stand in this pivotal time in the civil and Black rights movement made an indelible print on them. Reflecting on the matter, it made me think.  The American Civil War remains the only just war blacks have fought in.  It helped us break slavery’s chains.  

Beneficiaries of these over 120 wars, incursions and conflicts continue to be the ten percent that own most of the wealth and means of production and not Blacks who fought and died for a freedom and equality we have yet still to enjoy.

Let me cite a historic Baltimore example. The U.S. government threatened to charge Black newspapers such as the Baltimore Afro, Pittsburg Courier, and the Chicago Defender with treason because they promoted the Double V (victory) over Fascism and Jim Crow in WWII. 

In Baltimore Jim Crow was rooted deeply in all facets of Black life.  WWII was just a precursor of the gigantic civil and Black right battles to come, in the era Of President Obama, and still to come.

Ali was not without his historic flaws.  He backstabbed Malcolm X after a deep friendship and mentoring. He dissed Joe Frazier’s ethnicity. He made anti-Semitic remarks.  U.S. presidents from Ronald Reagan to Barak Obama used his iconic stature to mollify the U.S image on racial and religious matters.

The scales still remain very much in Ali’s favor. He brought pleasure to millions of people through his talents as the greatest boxer.  His draft resistance and his reasoning for it provided millions more with his greatest accomplishment.  Thank you Muhammad.