A Salute To 'The Greatest': Muhammad Ali

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Boxing legend Muhammad Ali arrives at "Celebrity Fight Night X," a charity event to raise money for the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Research Center at Barrow Neurological Institute in March 2004. i

Boxing legend Muhammad Ali arrives at "Celebrity Fight Night X," a charity event to raise money for the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Research Center at Barrow Neurological Institute in March 2004. Carlo Allegri/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Carlo Allegri/Getty Images
Boxing legend Muhammad Ali arrives at "Celebrity Fight Night X," a charity event to raise money for the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Research Center at Barrow Neurological Institute in March 2004.

Boxing legend Muhammad Ali arrives at "Celebrity Fight Night X," a charity event to raise money for the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Research Center at Barrow Neurological Institute in March 2004.

Carlo Allegri/Getty Images

February is Black History Month and Tell Me More observes the month with a series of short vignettes. In this installment, contributor Sam Fulwood shares his black history hero.

I'm Sam Fulwood, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and occasional guest on Tell Me More.

No public figure made a more positive impression on me than former heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali.

Sure, Ali – who was born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. – was an outstanding boxer. By most accounts, including his own, he is the greatest of all time.

But it isn't Ali's power in the ring that I most admire.

Ali represents what beautiful, bold, black manhood can be. He challenged the leading conventions of his day, including the Christian church by becoming an acolyte of Malcolm X and joining the Nation of Islam. And he fought and defeated the U.S. government, refusing to bear arms in the Vietnam War.

Of course, being a free man has its price and Ali paid dearly. He was denied access to boxing for three and half years at the prime of his career. Yet, when all the legal wrangling ended, Ali stood tall and correct. Within four years of returning to boxing he regained the heavyweight title in 1974 with an upset victory over George Foreman.

An interviewer later remarked that Ali was the second most popular man in world behind the president, and then asked him if he wanted to BE president. Ali told him:

America's in too much trouble. I don't want that job now. Something to think about, ain't it?

That's the Ali that I love. He retired from boxing in 1981; and today, despite the ravages Parkinson's disease, he remains an example of what is the greatest in America.

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