Muhammad Ali & Martin Luther King Jr.: America is the better for them

January 16, 2012 by  

It is a wonderful coincidence that Muhammad Ali’s 70th birthday comes the day after Martin Luther King Jr. Day. While the two essentially ran in different circles, as it were, both were amazing parts of a time that saw America change dramatically for the better.

While yesterday saw Americans look to King’s words and actions, all would be remiss to overlook what Ali did to change social and cultural norms in the United States.

In some ways, Ali was a direct link to Jack Johnson, the first African-American heavyweight champion. Johnson was proud to be a Black man long before such an attitude would be accepted in the United States. And for that, he would pay a high price. For more than a half-century after Johnson rose to the top of the boxing world, Black fighters learned an important lesson - if you want to last in boxing, it is best to let your fists do the talking.

Ali, however, was not to be quieted. Not at all. But herein lies the difference between Johnson and Ali. While Johnson was loud and proud, his actions tended to be for the benefit of himself. Ali burst into the public consciousness in the turbulent 1960s and - with great humor and personality - was a man of his times. He was thoughtful and intelligent, and evolved into a man who understood and thrived on his place in changing times.

Much has been written of Ali’s journey and it is not necessary to recap his life and actions here. He was, without a doubt, a controversial figure during controversial times and he was an imperfect man. But he brought a pride to the African-American community like no other athlete before or since. He changed how many Americans - both Black and White - felt about themselves, their communities and their country. And as his career progressed, he became a man beloved and respected by nearly all.

Ali’s pride, strength and determination were the only things that spoke louder than himself. And his effect on the American psyche is still being felt today.

Happy 70th birthday, champ.



One Response to “Muhammad Ali & Martin Luther King Jr.: America is the better for them”

  1. EAAW on January 17th, 2012 2:28 am

    Ali sucks…
    …and so do you

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