Op-Ed

War resister’s memories of a great man, great loss

On March 17, 1966, heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali arrived at a Veterans Administration office in Louisville to appeal his 1A draft classification.
On March 17, 1966, heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali arrived at a Veterans Administration office in Louisville to appeal his 1A draft classification. Associated Press

Muhammad Ali refused the Vietnam War and discriminatory draft in Houston. He got a five-year, $10,000 fine, as did I for refusing but with my trial and Joe Mulloy’s being in Louisville.

Mulloy and I were represented by one of the nation’s great legal scholars, Robert Sedler, who was also responsible for many integration laws. .

We were incarcerated the weekend Martin Luther King, Jr., my mentor, was killed. We were locked up 45 days on Liberty Street in downtown Louisville.

Mulloy hated it, staying in his cell reading and conversing with his cellmate, an illegal immigrant from Germany.

But I met and heard many stories from convicts mostly honest about crimes they committed. The other means of getting along was by scrubbing the cell block’s nasty shower. Other inmates appreciated this, with many becoming friends.

Both Ali and Mulloy won their cases in the Supreme Court on religious grounds.

I was a political resister, despite being honorably discharged from the Army, having collapsed lungs. The local draft board requested that I seek conscientious-objector status. I couldn’t expect others to resist if I didn’t refuse and face the consequences. My case — which questioned the war, the fairness of the draft and bias in federal jury selection — was denied a hearing by the Supreme Court.

I spent over 22 months in Michigan Federal Correctional Institution in Michigan with no regrets.

Ultimately, the war was judged a failure, the draft ended after a lottery system for a while then replaced with an volunteer military and the federal jury selection was changed.

Years later, Ali — that is his Olympic gold medal — became a part of my life after prison. I was in the grocery business and one customer shared the story of his getting a replacement for the medal Ali lost. The old Lexington Herald interviewed the customer in my store about his goal of giving Ali the medal at the Atlanta Olympics. Instead, the Olympics committee gave Ali another.

Muhammad Ali has died. I truly regret this loss.

Don Pratt is a Lexington community activist.

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