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Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali on the Vietnam War Draft

In 1964, Muhammad Ali, known then as Cassius Clay, captured the heavyweight title from Sonny Liston at the ripe young age of 22. He would defend the belt several times over the next two years, as well as change his legal name to “Muhammad Ali”, a reflection of his conversion to the Nation of Islam, and an act that lead one of the few premier professional boxing organizations (the World Boxing Association, or WBA) to strip him of his title. In February 1966 Ali was reclassified by the Louisville draft board as “1-A” status, those most fit to serve in the United States military. Ali had originally been classified as “1-Y”, but further American involvement in Vietnam resulted in a decrease in standards for military conscription. He staunchly refused to serve, famously telling press, “I ain’t got nothing against no Viet Cong; no Viet Cong ever called me nigger” (Shalit p.7). On June 20th, 1967 the world champion was convicted of draft evasion, punishable by five years in federal prison and a $10,000 fine (Toledo Blade 41). The case reached the U.S. Supreme Court and in June 1971 the original ruling was reversed, allowing Ali to begin fighting that year. The nearly four-year absence from the ring was a hindrance on the boxing legend’s career, but his refusal to engage in the fighting in Vietnam inspired countless people around the country and paved the way for athletes and celebrities to be outspoken on civil rights issues.