As a white youngster not much interested in boxing, even though I tried the sport, I saw something captivating, even inspiring about Cassius Clay’s early televised fights. Clearly he had impressive pugilistic skills. I had very little exposure to people of color before 1968 in school, church or public settings. While I wasn’t raised to be bigoted or racist, his self-asserted blackness intrigued me.
This fighter and unique pioneer in the quest for basic human rights for all was someone I truly wished I had met, or at least seen in person. He used his status as a celebrity in a way perhaps few could have imagined at the time. Perhaps even he did not initially recognize the impact he would have.
Even if one accepts the assertion that he was not a great American, he was so much more than “a showman and expert salesman.” To denigrate others who have achieved greatly diminishes one’s own integrity and character.
I cherish the right of dissent, even when it comes down to civil disobedience. Can I, and will I, give others the same right, especially in retrospect and in context with the times? “Those who deny rights to others deserve them not for themselves” — Abraham Lincoln.
Robert M. Atkinson