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MOHAMED ALI’S OTHER FIGHT

For Black History Month, Maison French Deal wishes to highlight personalities, stories and historical facts of Black Culture. Through this article, we invite you to discover Mohamed Ali and his other fights, carrying the voice of the black people.

Born on January 17th 1942 in Louisville, Kentucky, Cassius Marcellus Clay grew up in a modest black family. He discovered boxing at an early age. What was then just a game became a real passion. And it was at the age of 18 that he won the gold medal in the middleweight category at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome.

By the time he turned professional, young Clay had won all 19 of his fights. This flawless start to his career led him to face Sonny Liston, the reigning world heavyweight champion, in February 1964. Against all odds, the young boxer knocked out his elder by KO in the seventh round. No doubt, the legend has started.

His commitment to African-American civil rights 

At the same time, the athlete was engaged in a completely different fight, for African-American civil rights. He joined Elijah Mohamed’s Nation of Islam (NOI). He then converts to Islam and abandons his surname, which he calls “a slave name”, to become Mohamed Ali. From then on, he did not miss the slightest opportunity to denounce the racism of white America. In this fight for the civil rights of African-Americans, he befriends Malcolm X and other figures of the movement.

His discovery of Africa and Pan-Africanism 

In May 1964, Mohamed Ali travels to Africa for the very first time. It is by Ghana, then ruled by Kwame Nkrumah, father of pan-Africanism, that the young boxer begins his discovery of the continent. For several weeks, he soaks up the culture and meets the local population, with whom he is immensely popular. This immersion radically changes his view of Africa. He discovers a rich continent and well beyond all the clichés, which he had until then as references. The visit of the country is a real success. Following this very striking and enriching trip on all levels, Ali feels entirely invested with new responsibilities in the fight against colonialism and against the prejudices of which Africans are victims. He even states: “Until I came to Ghana, I had never realized that I was so popular and so loved by Africans, my people. »

His return to the United States

Back in the United States, Mohamed Ali, with his strong ideas and not having his tongue in his pocket, disturbs. In 1966, called to join the front, he refused to go to fight in Vietnam for religious reasons. For the government, this refusal to commit himself to his homeland was a real affront. Ali was therefore sentenced to five years in prison. And if he manages to avoid prison, he still loses his boxing license and his title. But despite the sanctions, Ali does not bend to the administrations and continues to speak out and denounce racism and injustice.

In 1970, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the champion. Following this decision in his favor, Ali had only one idea in mind: to regain his world title, then held by Joe Frazier. The two heavyweights met in March 1971 in New York City. Ali did not succeed in regaining his crown, but his hope of having his title back remained intact.

October 30th 1974 symbolizes Ali’s return to the rank of best boxer. He regains his world champion title against George Foreman in Kinshasa, Zaire. This legendary fight nicknamed “the fight of the jungle” remains one of the greatest fights in the history of boxing.

Until he was 74 years old, the champion fought two battles: one by the strength of his hands on the boxing ring and one by the strength of his words against racism and injustice towards black people.

CLAUDETTE COLVIN

It was on March 2nd 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, that Claudette Colvin “stood up and spoke” while remaining seated. At only 15 years old, this teenager refused to give up her seat to a white woman on a bus.

Nine months before Rosa Parks’ action, icon of the fight against racial segregation, Claudette Colvin was already taking a stand for her rights and those of all African-Americans. Today, at the age of 80, Claudette Colvin continues her fight by sharing her story. In March 2020, she was invited to the Embrace Ambition Summit organized by the Tory Burch Foundation in New York City.

Find her interview with Michele Norris here.