Heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali (born Cassius Clay, 1942-2016) was outspoken about many political issues, including his opposition to the Vietnam War.
Ali was drafted by the United States military in 1966 and called up for induction in 1967. He attended the induction but refused to answer to his name or take the oath. This led to Ali’s arrest and conviction, which in June 1971 was overturned by the US Supreme Court.
In March 1967, one month before his scheduled military induction, Muhammad Ali explained why he would not be enlisting to fight in Vietnam:
“Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go ten thousand miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?
No, I am not going ten thousand miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over. This is the day when such evils must come to an end. I have been warned that to take such a stand would put my prestige in jeopardy and could cause me to lose millions of dollars which should accrue to me as the champion.
But I have said it once and I will say it again. The real enemy of my people is right here. I will not disgrace my religion, my people or myself by becoming a tool to enslave those who are fighting for their own justice, freedom and equality…
If I thought the war was going to bring freedom and equality to 22 million of my people they wouldn’t have to draft me, I’d join tomorrow. But I either have to obey the laws of the land or the laws of Allah. I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs. So I’ll go to jail. We’ve been in jail for four hundred years.”