Muhammad Ali

Clay, aka Ali v. United States 1966-1971

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Ali, Muhammad. "The Champ." In Alice Lynd (Ed.) We Won't Go: Personal Accounts of War Objectors. Boston: Beacon Press, 1968. P. 226-234.

Alice Lynd presents excerpts from the transcript of Muhammad Ali's administrative hearing on August 23, 1966 before Justice Department appointed Judge Lawrence Grauman.

In his testimony, Ali clearly speaks of his decision to resist the draft as being based on his faith and ministerial position in the Nation of Islam. He recalls his Baptist background and his inability to understand why African-Americans were taught to remain nonviolent even when attacked. He also recalls being refused service at a restaurant in his native Kentucky after winning the Gold Medal in the 1960 Olympics, and how these incidents helped him to accept "the religion of Islam the minute I heard 1961." He learned about the teachings of Elijah Muhammad and how he and other African-Americans inherited their slave names. Ali verified that he and his father received their slave name from a "slave father named Cassius Marcellus Clay" by looking it up in Louisville newspapers. He eventually became a minister in the Nation and testified of rounding up people by the busload to take them to the Mosque. Ali's ministering was a major reason for his refusal to serve in the military.

On the topic of Vietnam, Ali said that even though the draft only became a reality for him when he was called in for his first physical, he became "a conscientious objector the hour that I first heard the teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad." He further states:

"It would be no trouble for me to accept conscientious objector [status] on the basis that I'll go into the armed services boxing exhibitions in Vietnam, or traveling the country at the expense of the government or living in the easy life and not having to get out in the mud and fight and shoot.... If it wasn't against my conscience to do it, I would easily do it. I wouldn't raise all this court stuff and I wouldn't go through all of this and lose and give up the millions that I gave up and my image with the American public, that I would say is completely dead and ruined because of us in here now, and so I wouldn't turn down so many millions and jeopardize my life walking the streets of the South and all of America with no body guard if I wasn't sincere in every bit of what the Holy Qur'an and the teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad tell us and it is that we are not to participate in wars... on the side of nonbelievers, and this is a Christian country and this is not a Muslim country.... The Holy Qur'an teaches us that we do not take part... in any part of war unless declared by Allah himself, or unless it's an Islamic World War, or a Holy War, and it goes as far (the Holy Qur'an is talking still) as saying we are not to even as much as aid the infidels or the nonbelievers in Islam, even to as much as handing them a cup of water during battle."
He compared the differences between fighting in the boxing ring and fighting in a war.

"...When I go in a ring, my intention is not to be violent in the way of fighting to kill, or going to war, or hurting [anyone] physically."
Referring to an upcoming bout, Ali says he will be,

"prancing and dancing and moving and jabbing and if he hit me low, points will be taken away. In a war you shoot, you kill, you fight, and you kill babies and you kill old ladies and men and there's no such thing as laws and rules and regulations."
Ali felt no need to defend himself from the Viet Cong. Instead he practiced self defense at home because the white majority in America had raped and lynched African-Americans for over four hundred years. Knowing that the media consistently lent credence to the myth that the Nation of Islam preached hate, Ali said,

"we are taught by the Honorable Elijah Muhammad that if a wild lion broke in, say this courtoom now, I would break out - not because I hate lions. I don't have a chance to hate the lion. I just know his nature is not like mine and we can't get along."
But when asked to fight a war on behalf of a country that enslaved and oppressed members of its own population, Ali would not fight.

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