Cassius Clay was just a boxer. A boxer who captured the hearts of Americans while winning the 1960’s Olympic gold. Here was a young man at the age of 18, representing the greatest nation on the planet and making his people proud. He would again gain the fascination of America with his defeat of the anti-hero of the time Sonny Liston. However, this hero famed across mainstream America would not last, all it would take was a man finding himself. Introducing Muhammed Ali, another boxer. However, just a boxer was not simple enough. This man who used to be called Cassius Clay, now embodied the radical change that was beginning to creep it’s way into American society. This Ali rejected what he called his “slave name” and now accepted the religion of Islam, a slap to the face of those Christian Americans who rallied behind him when he was in Rome and when he defeated Sonny Liston. This man and his strange religion of Islam now captured America in a different sense, one that didn’t sit too well with many. He would soon become the anti-hero of some and at the different spectrum a hero to others. His life would parallel the decade. This man would represent a catalyst of change to the system and to society. It would take another battle to create this change though, not against any other burly man swinging his arms, but against a government and it’s war.
Ali’s battle with the US government really captured the epic social battle that was happening in America. New, some would say radical, themes and ideas had boomed in this decade of confusion and turbulence. Ali being a black Muslim made him the ideal foe to a government that at the time was conservative, Christian derived and backed. Ali was part of a the greater social movement of the 60’s, a social revolution that brought attention to new ideas, faiths, and nerve to question the government. Essentially, Ali was a poster child of a new emerging America, one that was tired of the conformist ideals of the 50’s. Ali’s battle was not just one for himself, but for the new generation of America that held the ideals of acceptance, difference, and change. Ali was not only the champion of boxing, but with his battle against the US government he would find himself becoming the champion of the people.
Young, brash and black, Ali would became a frightening symbol to the establishment when the country ...
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..., his friends, the glory, and his money. However, as time went on, Vietnam would get worse. In 1968 the Tet Offensive would ensue showing that “the light at the end of the Tunnel” was not near, that the American people had been lied to. Causalities would mount into the tens of thousands. News would be broadcast everyday showing the horrors that our American boys were dealing with. Popular opinion would sway and demonstrations would grow and grow. Ali during the years of 67-71 would tour the country going to rallies and meetings. Ali over that course would be transformed from social outcast to a social figure. He was to be confirmed correct in his stand and in 1971, his conscientious objector status was upheld by the Supreme Court.
Ali didn’t need the Supreme Court’s action to feel vindicated. Though his message never changed during the 60’s, America did. His message would be that part of the 60’s which was right and just. The society would grow to reach the level at which Ali was thinking. Norman Mailer once put it “He is the very spirit of the 20th Century”, rightly so. Not only was he the spirit, he is a poster boy for the growth of the individual and of moral conviction.
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