Someday a really good history book of the 20th century will open with the following meditation from President Barack Obama on Muhammad Ali, delivered by White House advisor Valerie Jarrett today at the Champ’s funeral in Louisville, Kentucky:
…the world flocked to [Ali] in wonder precisely because, as he once put it, Muhammad Ali was America. Brash, defiant, pioneering, joyful, never tired, always game to test the odds. He was our most basic freedoms – religion, speech, spirit. He embodied our ability to invent ourselves. His life spoke to our original sin of slavery and discrimination, and the journey he traveled helped to shock our conscience and lead us on a roundabout path toward salvation. And, like America, he was always very much a work in progress.
We’d do him a disservice to gauze up his story, to sand down his rough edges, to talk only of floating butterflies and stinging bees. Ali was a radical even in a radical’s time; a loud, proud, unabashedly black voice in a Jim Crow world. His jabs knocked some sense into us, pushing us to expand our imaginations and bring others into our understanding. There were times he swung a bit wildly, wounding the wrong opponent, as he was the first to admit. But through all his triumphs and failures, Ali seemed to achieve the sort of enlightenment, an inner peace, that we’re all striving toward [President Barack Obama, Tribute to Muhammad Ali, delivered by Valerie Jarrett, Louisville, Kentucky, 2016.06.10].
Ali, brash Colossus, Muslim, draft resister, as metaphor for America. Fascinating.