1966 April 23

Famed Boxer Muhammad Ali Refuses Induction; Applies for CO Status


Muhammad Ali was the heavyweight boxing champion of the world and a media celebrity for his clever and sometimes audacious claims and poems about upcoming fights. Ali had both changed his name, from Cassius Clay, Jr., and converted to the Nation of Islam. He was drafted into the army, but refused induction on this day, on the grounds that he was a conscientious objector based on his religious beliefs. His refusal to be drafted created a national controversy. He became a vocal critic of the Vietnam War, and famously said “No Viet Cong ever called me nigger.” He was stripped of his heavyweight title, and his license was suspended. As a result, he did not box between March 1967 and October 1970. for four years, while at the peak of his prime athletic years. He challenged his arrest for refusing induction and took an appeal to the Supreme Court, where he won (Clay v. United States, June 28, 1971). He returned to boxing and regained his boxing title. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest boxers of all time.

In addition to Muhammad Ali’s case, the Vietnam War created a number of civil liberties crises. They include (1) the lack of a Congressional Declaration of War as required by the Constitution (June 3, 1970); (2) threats to freedom of the press in the Pentagon Papers case (June 30, 1971); (3) spying on the anti-war movement by the CIA (August 15, 1967); (4) threats to freedom of expression, for example high school student protests (February 24, 1969); censorship of television programs (February 25, 1968); and directly and indirectly some of the events that led to the Watergate Scandal (May 9, 1969; January 27, 1972).

Hear Ali explain his position: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q-fl6-xPioA

Read: David Remnick, King of the World: Muhammed Ali and the Rise of an American Hero (1999)

Check out the official Muhammad Ali web site: http://www.ali.com/

Watch the 1974 Ali-George Foreman fight: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=55AasOJZzDE

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