1971 June 28

Supreme Court Upholds Muhammad Ali’s Conscientious Objector Claim


The U.S. Supreme Court on this day, in Clay v. United States, unanimously overturned the conviction of Muhammed Ali, the most famous boxer in the world, for refusing to submit to the draft for the Vietnam War. Generally recognized as the greatest boxer of his generation, if not of all time, he had changed his name from Cassius Clay, Jr., and converted to the Nation of Islam in 1964. He claimed conscientious objection to participation in war based on his religious beliefs, and was prosecuted for refusing to be drafted. The Supreme Court ruled on largely procedural grounds, holding that the government had not specified why Clay/Ali’s application for conscientious objector status had been denied.

Because of his celebrity status, Ali’s objections to the Vietnam War were a major event in the movement against the war. Ali famously said “No Viet Cong ever called me nigger.” As a result of the case, Ali had been stripped of his heavyweight champion title and was not able to box between March 1967 and October 1970. When he returned, he regained his championship title.

Ali’s famous comment on the Vietnam War: “No Viet Cong ever called me nigger.”

Read: Thomas Hauser, Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times (2004)

Watch a documentary on Ali’s career: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bZMcmvXO1Rs

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