Today In History, 1967: Muhammad Ali Defies Vietnam Draft

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Muhammad Ali VietnamLegendary Hall of Fame boxer and beloved cultural figure Muhammad Ali (pictured second from left) has always been seen as a bold and outspoken figure ever since bursting on to the scene as a prodigious young pugilist and capturing the Olympic gold in 1960. Declaring himself a member of the Nation of Islam (NOI) in 1964, Ali would be painted as controversial while American media vilified the Black Muslims and Ali for his sense of pride and militant stances. Although Ali would fail the U.S. Armed Forces qualifying test in 1964 because of sub-par scores, he would later be draft eligible in 1966 due to the ongoing Vietnam War at the time. Standing in direct opposition of the War, Ali would be convicted on this day in 1967 for the Selective Service Act.

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Leading up to his conviction in Texas, Ali would state that fighting in the Vietnam war would be in direct contradiction with his new religious beliefs and became a conscientious objector. He would be arrested for refusing to enter the Armed Forces inclusion process in April of the same year of his conviction and was stripped of his licenses to box in New York and other state commissions. His title that he won in 1964 from Sonny Liston was also stripped; yet, continued to defy the war in a variety of famous quotes.

Watch Ali discuss why he won’t join the Vietnam war here:

War is against the teachings of the Holy Qur’an. I’m not trying to dodge the draft. We are not supposed to take part in no wars unless declared by Allah or The Messenger. We don’t take part in Christian wars or wars of any unbelievers.

But perhaps Ali’s most famous line regarding his stances came in 1966: “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong. They never called me ‘nigger,’” he would say, drawing a clear line in the sand between him and the Armed Forces.

Ali stood trial in federal courts in Houston, was slapped with a $10,000 fine, and faced five years of prison. Young Americans critical of the Vietnam War showed their support of Ali and he grew to become one of the faces of the anti-war movement. Opponents of the war grew in number and Ali’s defiant actions became an inspirational act to many. Eventually, Ali was granted an appeal hearing but lost precious years of fighting as a result.

On June 28, 1971, the Supreme Court would reverse Ali’s conviction. The Court was careful to state that the reversal of the conviction was not based on claims made by Ali and his attorneys, but rather the government’s failure to specify why they convicted Ali. In 1970 — while his case was undergoing the appeals process — Ali would return to boxing and fought through Jerry Quarry and Oscar Bonavena, leading the way to his momentous fight with the fierce Joe Frazier in March 1971.

We are hard pressed to find men of Ali’s caliber, conviction, and determination today.

Watch Muhammad Ali discuss his original name here:

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