"He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life."
Born in to segregation in Louisville, Kentucky, Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. would first enter the world stage at the age of 18, at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome. While overseas he would dazzle with his athletic abilities and brash style. He charmed the crowds and came home to Kentucky with a gold medal in the lightweight category.
The story goes Clay was publically referred to as the “Olympic Nigger” and declined many services in downtown restaurants. People would go on to say he threw his gold medal in the Ohio after he was refused services. Clay realized even with a gold medal, he was still a Black man in America.
In a few short years, Clay would claim more boxing titles and join the Nation of Islam, rejecting his “slave name, Cassius Clay,” and taking the name given to him by his new faith, Muhammad Ali. By embracing his new faith, he would be called out in the media for being “too radical.”
His most famous act in 1966 would not only cost him his boxing licenses and jail time but millions of dollars. Ali famously said, “Man, I‘ve got no quarrel with the Viet Cong,” setting the stage for him to be arrested for draft dodging in 1967. Ali stood on his faith which promoted peace and not war. Ali took a great risk with his unpopular stance on the Vietnam War; he risked it all during what should have been his peak performance years. During his four year court battle he would enter financial debt, but he did not sit at home, instead he toured college campuses giving speeches promoting peace.
How many athletes do you know today who would give up money to speak at college campuses? How many athletes today would give up anything for an unpopular cause? It seemed like the nation was against Ali but, Black America eventually came around to support the boxer who helped the civil rights movement forward, while the popularity for the war continued to diminish. It was civil right leader Stokely Carmichael who said of Ali, “His real greatness can be seen in the fact that, despite all that was done to him, he became even greater and more humane." No celebrity or athlete since Ali has taken a serious stance on social injustice especially in the Black community.
Black people in Cincinnati and throughout the world are remembering Muhammad Ali for his courageousness during the civil rights movement, and The Black Agenda Cincinnati dedicates this inaugural event in his honor.