Communities

Muhammad Ali Was Drafted in 1967 and Refused to Go—Here’s Why

by Brandon Weber

February 11, 2016
Image via Wikimedia Commons

Before he converted to Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Ali, the young man known as Cassius Marcellus Clay already referred to himself as “The Greatest.”

In using that description, he was usually referring to his prowess in the boxing ring, but he didn’t hesitate to embrace pride in his race and his religion, and he was more than willing to antagonize the white establishment when it threatened his success—or his beliefs.

In 1967, Ali did something that no sports professional had ever done before: Because of his religious beliefs, he refused to be drafted into the military and fight in the Vietnam War that the United States was mired in.

He was stripped of his heavyweight title, denied a visa to fight overseas, and had to scrape by at home while he fought his conviction for “draft dodging” all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court—and won. 

To survive, he began speaking at colleges and universities across the country, because those were paying gigs. Sometimes, angry white students confronted him and held him at fault for refusing to fight overseas. But he held his ground. 

The Greatest on Being Drafted

“My conscience won't let me go shoot my brother or some darker people or some poor, hungry people in the mud for big, powerful America. And shoot them for what? They never called me ‘nigger,’ they never lynched me, they didn't put no dogs on me, they didn’t rob me of my nationality, rape and kill my mother and father. Shoot them for what? How can I shoot them poor people? Poor little black people and babies and children and women. How can I shoot them poor people? Just take me to jail.”  —Muhammad Ali

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Muhammad Ali Was Drafted in 1967 and Refused to Go—Here’s Why