[sixties-l] Fwd: [BRC-NEWS] Muhammad Ali and the Sixties

From: Kali Tal (kali@kalital.com)
Date: Wed Jun 07 2000 - 05:37:37 CUT

  • Next message: William Mandel: "[sixties-l] 50s and 60s; age groups in 60s; dropping out."

    >Date: Tue, 6 Jun 2000 18:14:57 -0400
    >From: Art McGee <amcgee@igc.org>
    >Reply-To: ireedpub@yahoo.com, uncleish@aol.com
    >Subject: [BRC-NEWS] Muhammad Ali and the Sixties
    >Sender: worker-brc-news@lists.tao.ca
    >To: brc-news@lists.tao.ca
    >X-Sender: Art McGee <amcgee@igc.org>
    >X-WWW-Site: http://www.blackradicalcongress.org/
    >X-Rcpt-To: kali@kalital.com
    >Ishmael Reed's Konch Magazine
    >March 20, 2000
    >Book Review
    >Redemption Song: Muhammad Ali
    >and the Spirit of the Sixties
    >by Michael Marqusee
    >Verso, 1999
    >Reviewed by Kofi Natambu
    >This is an extraordinary book. It is especially astonishing
    >because just when I began to despair that any one text could
    >possibly do justice to accurately documenting and analyzing
    >the often badly misunderstood and largely misrepresented
    >complexity of either Muhammad Ali, the African American
    >civil rights and black power movements, or that endlessly
    >fascinating and elusive historical moment known forever as
    >"the sixties," an heretofore obscure author restores my
    >faith in the illuminating power of great writing to do much
    >more than merely chronicle legendary events. That the author
    >would be a white American expatriate who left the U.S. in
    >1971 at the age of eighteen to settle in England and become
    >an award-winning sports historian is all the more amazing
    >and, in this particular case, gratifying.
    >For what Michael Marqusee has accomplished with this
    >elegantly written book is nothing short of providing the
    >most lucid, succinct, intellectually honest and even-handed
    >account I have ever read of what Ali, and the various black
    >political and cultural movements for radical social change
    >both in this country and abroad (especially in Africa) of
    >that volatile period really meant to its massive legions of
    >fans and supporters throughout the world.
    >But Marqusee doesn't stop there. His highly insightful and
    >sharply analytical prose, which always somehow manages to
    >remain both graceful and completely devoid of dogma, also
    >incorporates an analysis of the significant social and
    >cultural impact of such archetypal figures of the '60s era,
    >as well as earlier 20th century American history, as Malcolm
    >X, Bob Dylan, Elijah Muhammad, Paul Robeson, Jackie
    >Robinson, Marcus Garvey, W.E.B. DuBois, Louis Armstrong,
    >Jack Johnson, Joe Louis, Sam Cooke and Martin Luther King.
    >In doing so we learn how and why these seemingly disparate
    >figures had such a profound effect on the anti-war movement
    >against the American intervention in Vietnam, as well as the
    >on-going struggles for human rights and social revolution in
    >the United States, the African continent, the Caribbean,
    >Latin America and Europe.
    >Toward that end Marqusee ties in the revolutionary movements
    >against colonialism and for political and economic democracy
    >in what was formerly known as the Congo (now Zaire), Ghana,
    >and South Africa. Thus the reader is also treated to an
    >analysis of U.S. complicity (through the CIA and the State
    >Department) in the the military overthrow and assassination
    >of the first and only democratically elected President in
    >the Congo, Patrice Lumumba, in 1960 by none other than the
    >vicious military officer and subsequent dictator Joseph
    >Mobutu (who bankrolled the famous 'Rumble in the Jungle'
    >heavyweight championship fight between Ali and George
    >Foreman with state funds in 1974).
    >In fact it is one of the many engaging aspects of this book
    >that it seriously investigates the many links between
    >individuals like Ali, Malcolm X, Dr. King and Elijah
    >Muhammad within the broader context of such major
    >institutional forces as the Nation of Islam, SCLC, SNCC, the
    >Organization of African Unity (founded by Ghanaian president
    >and Pan-Africanist Kwame Nkrumah), the FBI, the CIA, and the
    >American government. What emerges from this meticulously
    >detailed attention to the intricate nuances of history is a
    >book that tells us precisely who Muhammad Ali was as both
    >boxer and human individual without sacrificing an
    >understanding of how massive political, economic and social
    >forces of the 1960s and '70s impacted Ali's perceptions of
    >himself and the world. At the same time Marqusee allows us
    >to see the champion's considerable strengths and weaknesses
    >in a way that doesn't dehumanize him through either too much
    >misplaced adulation or petty criticism. In fact the truly
    >heroic dimensions of Ali's stand against the war in Vietnam
    >and his sincere commitment to his chosen religious and
    >philosophical beliefs at great personal and professional
    >cost is even clearer and more profound after reading this
    >As a result the extended and brilliantly written passages on
    >the champion's personal and political relationships with
    >such icons of the period as Malcolm X, the major mentor and
    >confidant of Ali's before the acrimonious split between
    >Malcolm and the authoritarian patriarch of the Nation of
    >Islam, Elijah Muhammad, in March 1964 (and which helped lead
    >to the tragedy of Malcolm's assassination just eleven months
    >later) is filled with well-researched and captivating
    >accounts of the complex personalities and stances of all
    >three men. For example, we learn that Ali, who first began
    >secretly attending meetings of the Nation of Islam as early
    >as 1962 (some two years after he received a gold medal as
    >the American representative in boxing at the Olympic Games,
    >and two years before he fought and defeated Sonny Liston in
    >February 1964 for the world heavyweight crown), was already
    >fascinated with the militant black nationalist oratory of
    >Malcolm X (the leading national minister of the NOI) at a
    >time when the Nation was still almost completely unknown to
    >the general American public.
    >It was Ali's intense interest in the sect as well as his
    >highly confident and independent attitude that supported
    >Malcolm's typically prescient insight that a then relatively
    >unknown 20-year-old kid named Cassius Marcellus Clay would
    >very soon become world heavyweight champion. Thus began
    >Malcolm's recruitment of a young man that he insisted from
    >the beginning was more than capable of becoming a very
    >important force in the organization. That this prophecy was
    >not shared by the then sixty-five-year-old founder and
    >leader of the NOI, Elijah Muhammad, is a major
    >understatement since the old man not only considered boxing
    >to be a morally inferior pastime but the idea of the young
    >Clay as an important member of his organization struck him
    >as pure folly. Of course none of this kept him from fully
    >endorsing and embracing Clay as a leading (and now wealthy)
    >member once he did become champion or bestowing on him the
    >very rare privilege of a new Islamic name, Muhammad Ali, on
    >the very night he became champion. This resulted in the
    >older man being able to not only wean Ali away from Malcolm
    >who, after being suspended by the Nation in December 1963,
    >formed his own organization just two weeks after Ali won the
    >title on February 25, 1964 but also enabled the elder
    >Muhammad to take over the new champion's financial affairs
    >through his appointment of his own son Herbert as Ali's
    >business manager.
    >Ali admits years later that his painful split with Malcolm
    >at Elijah's bidding was a big mistake on his part and the
    >major regret of his life. As Ali put it: "It was a pity and
    >a disgrace he died like that [assassination] because what
    >Malcolm saw was right, and after he left us, we went his way
    >anyway. Color didn't make a man a devil. It's the heart,
    >soul and mind that counts."
    >Marqusee also provides us with a particularly astute and
    >dynamic comparative analysis of Ali and another '60s
    >cultural hero and icon, singer and songwriter Bob Dylan.
    >What is revealed in this luminous comparison is how Ali and
    >Dylan, who were only eight months apart in age, both
    >symbolized and represented in strikingly similar and
    >different ways the alienation, restlessness, rebellion and
    >deep thirst and desire for social and cultural change that
    >was so characteristic of an entire generation throughout the
    >As Marqusee writes: "Ali and Dylan were first generation
    >children of the burgeoning electronic audio-visual culture,
    >which was still at that time largely unrecognized as
    >anything other than an inferior and distant cousin to the
    >mature forms of "high culture." Their public achievements
    >and the controversies that surrounded them helped compel the
    >in telligentsia to take pop culture seriously. By their
    >boldness, their ambitions and, paradoxically, their
    >playfulness, they made their disciplines--sport and popular
    >music--worthy of study..."
    >The deep appreciation for, and understanding of, popular
    >culture that Marqusee consistently demonstrates in this book
    >is never smug or condescending. In fact his clarity
    >regarding how cultural values, politics, and ideology
    >intersect and influence each other is echoed in his riveting
    >accounts of the rise, rapid expansion and agonizing decline
    >of the black power movement in the 1965-1975 period. This
    >section of the book is framed by a dizzying number of major
    >historical events, two of the most pivotal being the public
    >assassinations of Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
    >who both died at the age of thirty nine only three years
    >apart in 1965 and 1968. In recounting and critically
    >examining these earth-shattering incidents Marqusee very
    >deftly weaves the parallel narrative of not only Muhammad
    >Ali but the history of the Vietnam war (and the intense
    >national anti-war activity and draft resistance against it)
    >and such well-known organizations as SNCC, the Black Panther
    >Party, SDS, and SCLC. In highly dramatic yet measured prose
    >we see in great and fastidious detail how Ali's courageous
    >stands play a key role in the tremendous explosion of black
    >political and cultural consciousness among young African
    >Americans, as well as the millions of whites who were just
    >beginning to seriously question and oppose the government's
    >war in Vietnam.
    >We also witness Ali's impact on global affairs as the U.S.
    >moves swiftly to prosecute him for his public opposition to
    >the war and the draft. In England, France, Germany, Africa,
    >South America and throughout the Caribbean island nations
    >Ali is universally hailed as a hero moving everyone from the
    >philosophers Bertrand Russell and Jean-Paul Sartre to
    >foreign government leaders, political revolutionaries,
    >peasants and workingclass people alike to sing his praises
    >and openly defend his position.
    >Meanwhile Marqusee takes us on a philosophical journey of
    >his own, musing about the historical implications and
    >consequences of Ali's role in terms of the ultimate meaning
    >of sports in the United States as well as a scintillating
    >critique of what dramatic changes have occured in American
    >political economy and culture (and in the national African
    >American community) since Ali was banned from boxing and had
    >his passport revoked in 1967, was finally legally reinstated
    >(by a 5-4 vote in the Supreme Court in June 1971), and
    >defeated Joe Frazier in 1973, George Foreman in Zaire in
    >1974, and Leon Spinks in 1978 to become world heavyweight
    >champion for a record three times. During this critique
    >Marqusee demonstrates how and why the conservative white and
    >black American establishment began to embrace and coopt the
    >former militancy of Ali after 1975. Thus begins the media's
    >concerted (and on-going) attempts to distort and manipulate
    >the true meaning of his public legacy.
    >Finally Marqusee takes the reader full circle from his
    >opening paragraph where he ponders the sobering yet curious
    >fact that where once Ali had been fiercely opposed and
    >reviled by the government, sports writers and media
    >executives he was now in the 1990s being openly lionized and
    >feted by the same powerful public figures and corporate
    >institutions that had once denounced him, took his
    >championship title away and tried to send him to prison. It
    >is also revealed that because of backstage lobbying by NBC
    >Sports Ali was chosen to light the famous torch at the 1996
    >Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia before a sold-out crowd of
    >83,000 people (paying $600 per ticket), and a global TV
    >audience estimated at three billion. However in the final
    >chapter to this seemingly dense, but never boring or
    >ponderous, three-hundred-page masterpiece, Marqusee provides
    >an eloquent, powerful and compelling counterstatement and
    >critique of this cynical appropriation by American and other
    >global capitalists who use the symbolic power and authority
    >of Ali's international image to sell the Olympic Games and
    >its endless spinoff products.
    >In a parallel, and very interesting, assessment of the
    >contemporary sports scene Marqusee openly criticizes the
    >global corporate and media absorption of Michael Jordan who,
    >unlike Ali, has always been willingly complicit in the
    >highly profitable exploitation of his image:
    >"Nothing could be further from the ethos of Muhammad Ali
    >than the no-risk business acumen of Jordan. When campaigners
    >trying to draw attention to the plight of low-paid workers
    >in Nike's Southeast Asian sweatshops appealed to Jordan for
    >help, they got the brushoff. So did black Democrats in
    >Jordan's homestate of North Carolina when they asked him to
    >endorse their efforts to defeat the racist, homophobic
    >tobacco champion, Jesse Helms...Ali's embrace of an
    >alternative nationality, in the form of the Nation of Islam,
    >evolved under the pressure of events into a humanist
    >internationalism, a sense of responsibility to the poor and
    >powerless of all nations. Jordan's subordination of himself
    >to "America" made him an emblem of "globalization", a form
    >of rule from above by multinational corporations. His
    >astonishing achievements on the basketball court, and the
    >huge rewards he has reaped from them, are advanced as
    >justifications for "the American way," the capitalist way.
    >Jordan has become the embodiment of the Social Darwinism of
    >the new world order..."
    >By historical constrast then we learn the real reasons why
    >Ali and his mythic yet all too real example continues to be
    >of great value today despite the greed-based blandishments
    >of advertisers, promotors, athletes, and consumers alike. It
    >is a fitting coda to a great book that, like its main
    >subject, continually inspires, educates, entertains and
    >transforms our understanding of ourselves, our shared
    >history and the incredibly complex world that we live in.
    >Nothing could be a greater tribute to a true champion of the
    >Copyright (c) 2000 Ishmael Reed Publications.
    >[Articles on BRC-NEWS may be forwarded and posted on other mailing
    >lists, as long as the wording/attribution is not altered in any way.
    >In particular, if there is a reference to a web site where an article
    >was originally located, please do *not* remove that.
    >Unless stated otherwise, do *not* publish or post the entire text of
    >any articles on web sites or in print, without getting *explicit*
    >permission from the article author or copyright holder. Check the fair
    >use provisions of the copyright law in your country for details on what
    >you can and can't do.
    >As a courtesy, we'd appreciate it if you let folks know how to subscribe
    >to BRC-NEWS, by leaving in the first five lines of the signature below.]
    >BRC-NEWS: Black Radical Congress - General News Articles/Reports
    >Subscribe: Email "subscribe brc-news" to <majordomo@tao.ca>
    >Unsubscribe: Email "unsubscribe brc-news" to <majordomo@tao.ca>
    >Digest: Email "subscribe brc-news-digest" to <majordomo@tao.ca>
    >Archive: http://www.egroups.com/messages/brc-news
    >Questions/Problems: Send email to <worker-brc-news@lists.tao.ca>
    >www.blackradicalcongress.org | BRC | blackradicalcongress@email.com

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Thu Jun 08 2000 - 22:58:07 CUT