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Ali didn’t need promoters; he was his greatest promoter. He used the media, with Howard Cosell as his leading man, (Donald Trump has nothing on him), he used his promoters, mostly Don King, he used his opponents, whoever it was, and he used his fans and his haters to raise awareness of the event to record levels. But most importantly he always delivered in the ring, which made him even more popular because his fans lived to see him fight again and his haters lived to see him beaten. And even in defeat, which was rare during his prime, he kept everyone waiting for his next fight.

Oh, only if we could have seen him fight in the three years during his prime that the government took away from him and us. This is what made Muhammad Ali so great was his honest and direct approach toward racial discrimination in this country and his ability and lack of fear when he spoke about it.

He converted to the Nation of Islam religion and was a dedicated Muslim, not like most Christians who say they are but don’t practice it. Ali spoke his mind.

When he stated loud and clear across the country and world that he wasn’t going to be drafted into the Army to fight in Vietnam, even though he knew they would have never put him on the front lines or anywhere near Vietnam pretty much like Joe Louis, he still refused to enter stating that he could not see picking up a gun and killing people who had never discriminated against him or called him or his people a nigger. If he were to pick up a gun it would be to fight the racist people in this country who supported the Jim Crow system of segregation in keeping Black people down. He knew that the government wanted to use him to make the case that all Blacks should support the war, in which 45 to 55 percent of the front lines were made up of Blacks.

So when he spoke out against the war he spoke for many of us low-income brothers who couldn’t speak for ourselves. I know I supported him 100 percent. I couldn’t see going to war killing and running the chance of being killed or maimed for life because the government said we should. What had the Viet Cong or the communists done to Blacks? Would living under a communist government be any worse than living in the rural South or most urban cities at the time?

There has never been anyone like Ali and probably never will be. And even though the Nation of Islam at the time called all White people devils Ali never consented to that, he had Whites all around him, in his professional life. But just like he never backed off an opponent, taking on all challengers during his reign he never backed off expressing his views about the racist system and people in this country during his lifetime. He confronted it first hand growing up in Louisville, Ky, one of the most racist states in the union. He worked with Blacks and Whites throughout his career to help him become the most popular figure the world has ever known, in sports, politics, or entertainment. There was hardly anyone who didn’t know Ali in any part of the world, whether they hated him or loved him.

Having met him a couple of times myself in his visits to Pittsburgh and western Pennsylvania my view is that he was one of the nicest persons I’ve ever met. He loved talking, he loved people, and he loved poetry. At a promotional event in the ‘70s I remember him spending the bulk of his time doing improv poetry, basically using people names. I was the only Black person there. They loved it.

Because of Parkinson’s disease Ali hadn’t been the man we knew and loved for years, but it was great for the short period we did have him, because there will never be another.

Farewell to the GREATEST. Thanks, for the memories.

(Ulish Carter is the managing editor of the New Pittsburgh Courier.)

 

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