The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

46 Years Ago:
Muhammad Ali Refused to Go into the Army

Jun 24, 2013

Forty-six years ago, on June 20, 1967, Muhammad Ali was convicted of draft evasion. Two months earlier he had refused to be sworn into the army. He was sentenced to five years in prison, although four years later, the Supreme Court overturned the order.

Ali, a member of the Nation of Islam, was one of the best-known people on the planet. He was a boxing champion known around the world, admired by millions.

After his court conviction, Ali said: “My conscience won’t let me shoot my brother or some darker people. And shoot them for what? They never called me nigger.”

His statement touched millions of black people in the U.S. already fighting against discrimination and police brutality in this racist society. It encouraged millions more, black and white, in the movement against the U.S. war on Viet Nam.

Ali’s refusal to be drafted reinforced the young working class soldiers already resisting the war from within the military. It also encouraged other athletes to take a stand, particularly basketball great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The next year, top U.S. sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos, raised their fists in a black power salute during a medal ceremony at the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games.

For taking his stand, Ali was stripped of his championship and banned from boxing for three years. For years after their protest, Smith and Carlos couldn’t get steady employment.

But all of them stood by the decisions they took to protest. For that reason, they remain as heros to many people who have engaged themselves to fight against oppression.