I don’t remember the date, it was in September of 1970, I knew I was hungry, as I had almost nothing to eat the day before. Not an unusual thing in those days when I was full time in the Black Panther Party. On the streets of Atlanta Georgia, I had decided to go to Chestnut and Fair Street, in the center of the Black College complex. Clark College on one corner Spelman College a block away Morehouse College where I was technically still a student on the opposite corner. I was standing there trying to sell Black Panther News Papers. If I sold enough to cover the cost of food for the Free breakfast program I would be able to keep what ever was left for myself. I was busy trying to sell a paper to a really pretty Clark College girl and didn’t notice until I turned around that there was this really tall guy standing right next to me. After I sold a paper to a passing car I noticed the look on the face of the buyer when he looked at the tall guy. I stepped back on the sidewalk and looked up and sure enough it was Muhammad Ali. It was him who struck up a conversation. He said how he respected the BPP and the work we did and was sorry that he had not done more to donate money to our community programs. I told him that we all knew what he was going through, and that to us he was always the “People”s Champion” we went into a lot of subjects Like Abdul Nassar who had just died and how the new Egyptian President Anwar Sadat was a real Egyptian …a Black man and not an Arab. I told him that it meant a lot to many of us that he had taken this stance on the war.Ali kept saying that he had not planned any of this…he just had to do what he thought was the right thing…”suppose ” he said ..”when they grow up …my kids ask me what did I do about this” …”I don’t want to have to say I did nothing ” simple words …but I knew exactly what he meant….You have to understand that during the time Ali had been suspended from boxing the number of Black as well as non-Black men drafted to go and fight that war had grown enormously This was over forty five years ago so a lot of the words have faded away. But what got me was after about ten minutes somebody across the street said “HEY LOOK ….IT’S ALI “..all of a sudden his voice changed, his posture changed, he began to speak more in a “ghetto dialect” and got really loud.It was like a switch was thrown and he turned on his other persona….I think in that moment I learned more about him that in any of his interviews ….he knew who he was, he knew what he was. I knew in that one second that Ali was not being manipulated by Malcolm or Elijah Muhammad. Within seconds there were dozens of people ….trying to get close to Ali. I noticed that a bright yellow limo drove up..Ali pushed through the crowd ..gave me a ten dollar bill..I gave him the Black Panther newspaper, he got in the car and was gone. I found out a few minutes later that Ali had been using the gym at Morehouse College to train for his up coming comeback fight..against Jerry Quarry…it was an easy win about a month later. A lot of things happened to me during those Black Panther years but this day is one memory that I treasure…To guys in my generation maybe Stokely may have made Black what we called ourselves..but it was Ali who maybe not alone but in terms of the loudest voice, taught us how to BE Black men and women…real Black men and women…We were under no obligation to aide America in it’s imperialism …and it fact had more in common with the people America wanted us to kill…The most powerful words spoken by a Black American ..ever, were “NO VIET CONG EVER CALLED ME NIGGER” This took what we were still calling a “civil rights” movement and turned it into something much bigger. That’s what Malcolm died trying to do…it’s what MLK came to embrace at the end of his life…and despite all the money and being the “worlds most famous person” This is and will be what made Muhammad Ali….”The Greatest”…don’t have to tell Ali to “rest in power”…..we know he is.
I actually wrote this one morning two years ago but a friend of mine saw it recently and suggested that this remembrance belonged here……May 26th 2014…I woke from a fitful dream this morning , in my sleep I kept seeing guys I knew who never came back from the war Viet Nam..in that way that dreams can be, some of them were real guys that I knew in high school or from my “hood” but some of them were just faces. I think it’s because I went to sleep with the TV on and there was so much stuff on about Memorial day… But yes I knew a lot of guys and even a few women who went to “the NAM” many never came back. As high school was ending for me and my generation, you had many people who lived in complete fear of the day they would get “called up” in the draft to go fight that war To be honest I also grew up with guys who grew up watching all those WW II movies with John Wayne and Audie Murphy..( I know none of you young people know who Audie Murphy was…do what you do best google him) and these people could not wait to get in uniform and go fight and kill some communists. You have to understand that everybody I mean EVERYBODIES Dad had fought in WW II in fact you could not buy a house in our neighborhood unless you were a veteran. Also I have to mention that not as many Black men went to college as they do today some didn’t have the grades , even more could not afford it. I was in that few who were sought out by the colleges both Black and White. We didn’t have Affirmative Action back then so all the big white colleges would literally hunt down Black “super students” …you only needed two or three in your school then no one could say Cornell , or Dartmouth were “racist” ..but you really had to be that “super student” ten times better than the white student to be what we called in those days “the nigger who sat by the door”..I didn’t have the best grades but in my IQ tests I scored in the 160s ..by the time I was in 11th grade it was not unusual for there to be a big black car sitting in front of my parents house when I got home from school two or three times a week ..all asking us to sign an agreement for me to go to their University … I don’t say this to brag .in fact it was a curse that inflicted a lot of pain on my parents and to this day colors the relationships I have with my siblings. But that’s a story for another day, the point here is that I seemed to be in a position to not be “cannon fodder” in that war….But they got a lot of us…I feel bad about it today that the stupid young man I was would make fun of these guys..”hey man you a little brown guy who is treated like shit in your own country going off to kill little brown guys on the other side of the world who just want to run their own country, man you’re a complete fool”. That was easy for me to say …I would have a student deferment and would not have to go…or so I thought ..that’s another story too for another day or for my blog. But the point here is Uncle Sam took a lot of boys through no fault of their own .Money and class for the most part decided if you had to go or not.0ver 58,000 never came back.. and today I salute every single one of them. This picture is of a statue that sits in the park where the Viet Nam Veterans Memorial is….I kind of like it ..look closely at the soldiers faces ….I think it says it all.