Muhammad Ali & the Vietnam War: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know



Muhammad Ali died on June 3 at the age of 74. Throughout history, the famed boxer has made headlines, including his stance on the Vietnam War. Muhammad wanted people to know why he refused to serve, even when it could’ve landed him in prison as well as cost him millions of dollars.

Here’s what you need to know:

1. He Refused to Serve in Vietnam & Was Stripped of His Heavyweight Title

Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali is seen here in 1967 defending his title against Ernie Terrell. (Getty)

On April 28, 1967, Ali refused to be inducted into the U.S. Army and was stripped of his hard-earned heavyweight title. Risking nearly everything, he stood firm on his stance to stay out of the Vietnam War. Ali proclaimed:

My conscience won’t let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people, or some poor hungry people in the mud for big powerful America. And shoot them for what? They never called me nigger, they never lynched me, they didn’t put no dogs on me, they didn’t rob me of my nationality, rape and kill my mother and father… Shoot them for what? How am I going to shoot them? Poor little black people, little babies, and children, women. How can I shoot them poor people? Just take me to jail.

2. He Was Convicted of Draft Evasion

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On June 20, 1967, Ali was convicted of draft evasion. He was fined $10,000 and sentenced to five years in prison. He was also banned from boxing for three years, reported Ali appealed the case and avoided prison time. He returned to the boxing ring on October 26, 1970. Ali stated the following on his refusal to be drafted:

Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on Brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights? No I’m not going 10,000 miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over. This is the day when such evils must come to an end. I have been warned that to take such a stand would cost me millions of dollars. But I have said it once and I will say it again. The real enemy of my people is here. I will not disgrace my religion, my people or myself by becoming a tool to enslave those who are fighting for their own justice, freedom and equality. If I thought the war was going to bring freedom and equality to 22 million of my people they wouldn’t have to draft me, I’d join tomorrow. I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs. So I’ll go to jail, so what? We’ve been in jail for 400 years.

3. It Was Against His Religious Beliefs to Serve in the War

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After his arrest for draft evasion, Ali explained that at least part of the reason he refused to go to war was religion:

If I thought the war was going to bring freedom and equality to 22 million of my people they wouldn’t have to draft me, I’d join tomorrow. But I either have to obey the laws of the land or the laws of Allah. I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs. So I’ll go to jail. We’ve been in jail for four hundred years.

Ali discovered Islam in 1965, according to “I have had many nice moments in my life. But the feelings I had while standing on Mount Arafat (just outside Makka, Saudi Arabia) on the day of the Hajj (the Muslim pilgrimage), was the most unique. I felt exalted by the indescribable spiritual atmosphere there as over one and a half million pilgrims invoked God to forgive them for their sins and bestow on them His choicest blessing,” stated Ali.

4. He Changed His Name Because of Religion

Muhammad Ali, 1974. (Getty)

Muhammad Ali, 1974. (Getty)

Before converting to Islam, Muhammad Ali was known by his birth name, Cassius Clay. However, reported that he called his original name a “slave name,” and first “assumed the name Muhammad X,” with Martin Luther King claiming Ali to be a major inspiration to his opposition of the war.

Ali was denied membership into the Nation of Islam until he became notorious for his stance on civil and public rights. He was then granted membership and given the name “Muhammad Ali” by Elijah Muhammad. He converted to Sunni Islam in 1975.

5. He Was Banned From Boxing for Three Years

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Following his arrest in 1967 for draft evasion, Ali was banned from boxing in the United States for three years by the New York State Athletic Commission and the World Boxing Association. During his time away from the ring, Ali spoke to colleges about his opposition to the Vietnam War.

Fast forward to 1970, when Atlanta, Georgia, had no state athletic commission and issued Ali a boxing license. A month later, Judge R. Mansfield of United States District Court ruled that Ali’s rights were violated by barring him from fighting. Judge Mansfield also noted that many other people who were convicted of crimes still had a license to fight in New York, according to the New York Times. His boxing license was then ordered to be reinstated by the New York Supreme Court. “All that’s behind me now,” Ali said.

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