MICHEL MARTIN, host:
And now on this last day of Black History Month, the last installment of our series of one-minute tributes. We've been inviting members of the TELL ME MORE staff, some of our guests and our NPR colleagues to share stories about the figure or event from black history that they most admire. Today, a boxing great.
Mr. SAM FULWOOD (Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress): 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 is in 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-a-half years at the prime of his career. 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 the world, behind the president, and then asked him if he wanted to be president. Ali told him
Mr. MUHAMMAD ALI (Boxer): The man is in too much trouble, I don't want that job now.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. ALI: Something to think about, ain't it?
Mr. FULWOOD: That's the Ali I love. He retired from boxing in 1981 and today, despite the ravages of Parkinson's Disease, he remains an example of what is the greatest in America.
MARTIN: That was Sam Fulwood, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and a guest on this program, celebrating Muhammad Ali. To browse the full series of TELL ME MORE black history essays, please log on to NPR.org. And in the search field type black history heroes.