As I get ready for CNU 27 Tuesday, I was surprised to learn Louisville renamed Louisville Intl Airport (SDF) in honor of Muhammad Ali, joining their downtown arena in honoring the famous olympian & social justice champion. He deserves these long denied honors, is now a full hometown hero in Kentucky. But let us never forget that Ali (née Cassius Clay) was once “The Most Hated Man in America.”
He did not JUST “take a knee” in his day; he declared Vietnam a “white man’s war”. He told blacks, then rioting across the country over fascist economic, police, and social policies, to refuse to report. And he led them by example.
He did not JUST march & block traffic to highlight institutional oppression, he went to jail rather than don a uniform and make smiling PR tours and exhibitions like country boy Elvis Presley. He called any black that cooperated with the American system an “uncle tom” … or worse, and encouraged fellow blacks to do the same.
When big institutional religions supported “God & country”; when they continued from the pulpit preaching the bible but soft pedaling slavery; when Christian leaders, as usual, urged Black America “go slow” on demands for social change, he dumped Christianity. He became a high profile “black muslim”; at the time one of a few groups fundamentally, radically, declaring blacks to be EQUAL (along with my own peaceful UU’s). For many, this was sacrilege, he would not step down to a lesser place.
Ali publicly scorned his “slave name” as meaningless to his identity, and picked his own, charting his own course forward. He exhorted all blacks to do the same; to renounce the WW-II power structure. That “greatest generation”: racially entitled, economically advantaged, red lined segregated, and later ridiculed by the cartoon character Archie Bunker, was apoplectic.
As a boxer Ali could not be “blackballed” by 26 white millionaires, but his titles and honors “were stripped” (is that possible?) and his license to box, to work, was revoked in ALL 50 STATES. A fascist wet dream we see repeated throughout history. When one protests the status quo first jail them, deny them their profession and their community, exile them.
Today he is an American hero, lighting that torch in Atlanta’s Olympics; naming buildings and now his hometown airport in his honor. But his honors after death seem an attempt to sweep under the rug the record of America’s GI generation’s vile hatred, fascist power, institutional coercion.
If you live to be my age, expect to see streets, and parks (and airports it seems) named for the very ones today that your racist grandparents, your Luddite neighbors, and your hate driven peers are screaming and marching against; demanding the most vile death and torture. In your old age, like mine, you will push grandchildren through parks named after them … so get your ass out there TODAY, support them TODAY.
Stand shoulder to shoulder. Fill your scrapbooks with pictures of you, your friends, your future white haired spouse wearing today’s long outdated fashions & funny haircuts, but standing on the RIGHT side of history’s great conflicts. Pictures of you supporting the ones that are hated today, that in the end are America’s real heroes. And NEVER EVER let history forget who were the real HATERS today, in this current day, that opposed our heroes. Never let history forget the unrepentant haters.