Muhammad Ali: Integrity and Africa

It is important to cultivate integrity in all our actions. Muhammad Ali, born Cassius Clay, was a man of great integrity. What do I mean by that? When drafted to go to war, he said NO. He said he could not understand why he was being made to fight a people who had done nothing to him. He thought, how could he, a Black man in America with newly acquired rights, could go kill people (the Vietnamese people), who were victim of the white man’s greed? He probably thought, “they did nothing to me, why should I kill them? Who gives me the right to kill them?” He stood his ground, and refused to serve. For this, he was punished, banned for 5 years. For many, this could have been a descent into depression, alcoholism, drugs, etc… for he had lost his source of income; he was eventually arrested, found guilty of draft evasion charges and stripped of his boxing titles. He successfully appealed in the US Supreme Court, which overturned his conviction in 1971, by which time he had not fought for nearly four years—losing a period of peak performance as an athlete. Many thought he was arrogant, but he stood for his beliefs. Instead of falling down, he stood up, he became an activist, and worked tirelessly to end the war in Vietnam… he rallied masses.

Muhammad Ali was also the first international boxer of his stature to fight in Africa. Who has not heard of “The Rumble in the Jungle” the 1974 fight which took place in Kinshasa, Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo)? This was a historic game not only because it was deemed the fight of the century, and featured Ali vs. Foreman, but also because it took place on African soil. It brought in representatives from all over the continent, and singers from around the world. In the emission on the Origin of Rumba, the late Papa Wemba clearly stated that he had been at that game and met several legends of music James Brown, Celia Cruz and the Fania All-Stars, B.B. King, Miriam Makeba, Johnny Pacheco, and it had been an experience like none other.

So let us remember Muhammad Ali, a man of integrity, who inspired so many by his spirit, strength, determination, and courage. So long Ali… the Greatest.