Muhammad Ali

Writing Assignment on Muhammad Ali and the Draft

When most people think of the 1960s, images of civil rights activists and anti-war protesters immediately come to mind.  One commonly thinks of Martin Luther King, Jr. or the Black Panthers, for example.  At the same time, provocative photographs of burning draft cards and violent confrontations with the police also form a large part of America’s historical memory.  The case of Muhammad Ali and conscription reflects these wider issues of war and peace and racial justice, but from a different angle that allows you to use your larger historical imagination to better understand the tensions underlying American society in that contentious decade.

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Let us go back to the late 1960s, when the federal government felt obligated to prosecute a celebrity draft evader, the Nation of Islam passionately advocated for their most prized recruit, Stokely Carmichael defended a man he called “hero,” who through his refusal to serve dramatically raised the profile of the growing anti-war movement (especially for Black Americans), patriotic American Legion members urged  boycotts of Ali prize fights, traditional white establishment sportswriters heaped scorn upon the young heavyweight champ, and Ali, took a courageous and costly principled stand against a war that he could not in good conscience join.

Drawing on all the sources below, explain the issues surrounding Muhammad Ali’s greatest fight, his refusal to be drafted for combat during the Vietnam War.  Having read chapter 25 of Foner’s Give Me Liberty, which provides a foundation for understanding social protest and antiwar sentiment during the 1960s, read the following articles from the Washington Post (Links to an external site.) and New Yorker (Links to an external site.) for more background about Muhammad Ali and the draft.  Then consider the following sources—videos, primary documents, and newspaper and magazine articles—as you work through the assignment.

The sources below are arranged around five personas, two of which are fictional composites, that represent five different constituencies/perspectives about the controversy.  While they are hardly conclusive, they should provide plenty of context for you to construct a historical argument about the incident and its larger social and political meaning.  With all that in mind, here is your prompt:

Drawing on all the sources below, explain the issues surrounding Muhammad Ali’s “greatest fight,” his refusal to be drafted for combat during the Vietnam War.  Consider the historical context and the various perspectives of the five personas.  Why was his decision met with such hostility?  How did the controversy both reflect and shape larger social struggles, both in the civil rights and antiwar movements, as well as beyond?  What does Ali’s struggle tell us about American society in the 1960s?  In short, why is Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali so important?

Your paper should be a four-to-five page typewritten (1250 words, double-spaced) analysis of the issue.  A good paper will consider these questions and provide evidence from the various sources and/or your textbook to support your answer.  The essay is due Friday, February  19th .  Note that without the paper, you will not have completed all of the requirements for the course, and will therefore be ineligible for a passing grade.

While grading is primarily based upon your understanding and critical analysis of the sources, form will also be taken into account.  In addition to typographical errors, check carefully for spelling and grammatical mistakes.  Pages must be numbered.  With regard to formatting, use standard one inch margins and a 12 point font.  Times New Roman is the preferred typeface.  And remember to cite direct quotations.  As a rule they can be valuable in underscoring a point, but avoid lengthy and excessive quotations: they are boring.  As for form, you can cite your work with either MLA or Chicago styles, as long as you are consistent.  Finally, do not plagiarize.  No credit will be given for dishonest work.


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