BY DAVE ZIRIN | SOCIALIST WORKERS.ORG
Muhammad Ali wasn’t the “civil rights saint” that he is sometimes portrayed as today.
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PROFESSIONAL BOXER – Social Activist
Muhammad Ali born Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr., January 17, 1942 – June 3, 2016) was an American professional boxer, generally considered the greatest heavyweight in the history of the sport. Early in his career, Ali was known for being an inspiring, controversial and polarizing figure both inside and outside the boxing ring. He is one of the most recognized sports figures of the past 100 years, crowned “Sportsman of the Century” by Sports Illustrated and “Sports Personality of the Century” by the BBC.
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But Ali had an effect on the Panthers that rippled well beyond his wicked grace in the ring. In 1965 the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in Lowndes County, Alabama, launched an independent political party and became the first group to use the symbol of a black panther. Their graphic was of a black silhouette of a panther with a slogan straight from the champ: “WE Are the Greatest.” They took his famous phrase, “I am the greatest,” and made it a collective call to arms. In addition, Panther co-founder Huey Newton said that he became politicized by watching Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali give speeches. They inspired him, but left him wanting more because he “had enough of religion” and later wrote, “references to God or Allah did not satisfy my stubborn thirst for answers.”
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