America and Ali: Colossi of the 20th Century

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:

Ali defeats Liston, 1965
Ali defeats Liston, 1965

…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.


5 Responses to America and Ali: Colossi of the 20th Century

  1. Roger Cornelius

    Ali’s funeral was something to behold and it spoke to the man he was.
    The all faiths service included Muslims, Christians,Shoshone Holy Men, Mormon Senator Orrin Hatch, Jewish comic Billy Crystal and many more guests and celebrities from around the world.
    Ali was interested in and supportive of all faiths. We could probably say that he was the embodiment of true religious freedom. He understood that all people of faith have a singular commonality, to earn a place in heaven.
    He wasn’t condemned for going to war against our government, he was respected for it.
    It is amazing that back in his day Ali was hated by so many because of his beliefs and today many of his critics came together to honor his enduring legacy.

  2. Bob Newland

    No Viet Cong ever called me Nigger. He said.

  3. Paul Seamans

    If Ali would have acceded to the draft he probably would have spent his enlistment doing exhibition bouts. He had the courage to stand up for his beliefs. I admired his boxing prowess back then. I admire Ali the man now.

  4. Paraphrasing George Foreman on the passing of Mohammad Ali – and Gordie Howe in a week, I’m not sure how to live in a world without them.

    For those with less information of the lesser known Gordie Howe, here’s a link. Play the videos.
    http://espn.go.com/nhl/story/_/id/16096859/hockey-legend-gordie-howe-dies-88
    http://espn.go.com/espn/feature/story/_/id/16096965/nhl-remembering-gordie-howe