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Muhammad Ali recites his poem on the Attica Prison riot: ‘Better to die fighting to be free’
04:28 pm


Muhammad Ali

In July 1972, Muhammad Ali traveled to his ancestral homeland of Ireland at the invitation of Michael “Butty” Sugrue, who had put up the purse for Ali to fight Detroit contender Alvin “Blue” Lewis at Croke Park, in front of 25,000 fans. Ali won the fight with an eleventh round knockout.

It was The Greatest’s first visit to his maternal great-grandfather Abe Grady’s birth country, and he made a special point of visiting the Taoiseach (the Irish Prime Minister) Jack Lynch and the republican socialist politician Bernadette Devlin to discuss “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland. Ali also discussed the civil rights issues in the north of the country in a long TV interview with RTÉ’s Cathal O’Shannon. During this interview Ali also commented the brutal murderous events carried out by the authorities after the Attica prison riot.

On September 9th 1971, after hearing news of the execution of Black Panther George Jackson at San Quentin, around 1,000 Attica inmates rioted and seized control of the prison. The prisoners had taken hostage 42 guards and demanded political rights and better conditions. Negotiations progressed until September 13th, when at 09:46 hours tear gas was hurled into the siege area which was followed by two full minutes of non-stop shooting by members of the NYPD and troops from the National Guard. Forty-three were killed—33 inmates and ten staffers.

Having explained the events of the slaughter, Ali then recited his poem:

Better far from all I see
To die fighting to be free
What more fitting end could be?

Better surely than in some bed
Where in broken health I’m led
Lingering until I’m dead

Better than with prayers and pleas
Or in the clutch of some disease
Wasting slowly by degrees

Better than of heart attack
Or some dose of drug I lack
Let me die by being Black

Better far that I should go
Standing here against the foe
Is the sweeter death to know

Better than the bloody stain
On some highway where I’m lain
Torn by flying glass and pane

Better calling death to come
Than to die another dumb
Muted victim in the slum

Better than of this prison rot
If there’s any choice I’ve got
Kill me here on the spot

Better far my fight to wage
Now while my blood boils with rage
Lest it cool with ancient age

Better vowing for us to die
Than to Uncle Tom and try
Making peace just to live a lie

Better now that I say my sooth
I’m gonna die demanding truth
While I’m still akin to youth

Better now than later on
Now that fear of death is gone
Never mind another dawn.

Ali returned to Ireland in 2003, when he took part in the opening ceremony for the Special Olympics in Dublin, and again in 2009, when he was given Honorary Freeman of the town of Ennis, birthplace of his great-grandfather Abe Grady. A film When Ali Came to Ireland documented the boxer’s trip and the “huge impact [it had] on those Ali met and, some say, on the man himself.”

Via Open Culture.

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Muhammad Ali on ‘Face the Nation,’ 1976
10:30 am


Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali
On March 26, 1976, the great Muhammad Ali spent a half-hour in the company of George Herman, Peter Bonaventre, and Fred Graham on CBS’ Face the Nation—the starkest takeaway may be how much has changed.

In our hyper-partisan times, you wouldn’t necessarily expect a prominent African-American athlete to aspire to be a “black Henry Kissinger” or to single out a Republican administration—referring to Ford—as the only one that he has really liked (“I like President Ford and his administration”), all the while disavowing any expertise in political matters.

It’s an astonishing thing to watch Ali’s stoic face as he listens to Fred Graham idiotically inquire, “Is there ever gonna be another ‘Great White Hope,’ a white heavyweight that’s gonna come in and whip all of you black heavyweights?” Interestingly, Ali largely accepts the premise of the question, discussing the great white boxers of the past and agreeing that there aren’t very many around. Of course, to our 2013 ears, the whole idea of pining for a white hero to come along seems reprehensible and also oddly aggressive in freely owning up to the psychological need of white people to have a white champ. The whole thing seems more than a little silly today.
Muhammad Ali
They discuss Ali’s upcoming bout with legendary sumo wrestler Antonio Inoki in June of the same year in Tokyo. That was a very interesting fight—after truly massive hype, it was something of a fizzle, ending in a frustrating 3-3 draw, and Ali suffered some serious leg injuries during the fight, which some have seen as a precursor to modern mixed martial arts. (Ali may have had the last laugh, however: Inoki announced in 2012 that he had converted to Islam 22 years earlier.)

Speaking of injuries, in light of Ali’s struggle with Parkinson’s, it’s heartbreaking to hear him describe a series of jaw fractures, some nerve problems, and a “busted eardrum” that have resulted from his fighting career. In addition, completely unaware that his boxing would eventually lead to Parkinson’s, Ali warns youngsters not to go into boxing in stark terms (even while claiming that baseball is more dangerous): “I think boxing is dangerous. Any man been hit in the head—the brain’s a delicate thing, I think it should be well protected. ... I would advise nobody to box. If they get hit too much, ... it’s too dangerous.”

Amusingly, Ali admits that he’d kinda like to have back that Olympic gold medal he threw into the river way back when.

Towards the end of the program, Ali furnishes a rather ringing endorsement of the United States of America: “I’ll say this: We have a lot of moral problems in America, but America’s the greatest country in the world. I been throughout the world. The best schooling system, the best education system, the medical system, the highways, the cars, the airplanes, the television shows, and this is why—but morally, we need to be uplifted” before going on to praise Wallace D. Muhammad, the son of Elijah Muhammad who disbanded the original Nation of Islam of his father and moved the church into a much more mainstream direction (it sure is interesting to hear Ali disavow all that “white devil” stuff…...).

Previously on Dangerous Minds:
I am the Greatest: Muhammad Ali sings
Check out Muhammad Ali’s Broadway chops as he performs a number from a Black Power musical, 1969

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Even Sam Cooke couldn’t help with Muhammad Ali’s terrible singing voice
09:27 am


Muhammad Ali
Sam Cooke

Ali's album
Not at everything, you’re not…

You may have read my recent post on Muhammad Ali’s starring role in Buck White, the black radical Broadway musical. An intrepid commenter turned me on to Ali’s earlier… material, his 1963 album, I Am the Greatest!. It even had a bit of backing vocals by friend and fan, Sam Cook! While it was largely a novelty album, primarily consisting of Ali’s brilliant spoken word braggadocio, it also contains his early attempts at a singing career. Not yet heavy weight champion, and still “Cassius Clay”, no one can say Ali lacked confidence.

How he got cast for Buck White after this, I do not know.
Muhammad Ali and Sam Cooke

The Gang’s All Here

Stand By Me

Ali and his close friend Sam Cooke harmonize on a BBC sports program.

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
I am the Greatest: Muhammad Ali sings

On his 70th Birthday, here is Muhammad Ali (or as he was then, Cassius Clay) explaining why he is The Greatest.  From his 1964 single.

Happy Birthday Muhammad!


Bonus: “Stand By Me” as sung by The Greatest.

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
In Zaire: Rumble in the Jungle
01:31 pm


Muhammad Ali
Johnny Wakelin
George Foreman

Listen to the splendor that is Johnny Wakelin’s “In Zaire.” I love the shit out of this song, but so far I’ve resisted posting it here because of the totally 70s videos of it floating around out there (as if this has ever stopped me before?). Now I’ve decided that I like them, go figure.

The lyrics describe the infamous 1974 “Rumble in the Jungle” prizefight that saw world Heavyweight champion George Foreman pitted against the former world champion, Muhammad Ali. In a stadium filled with screaming fans in Kinshasa, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), Ali knocked Foreman out in the eighth round.

But the music, can we talk about the music? This track is such a killer. It simply stomps all over your face and smashes you to a pulp. Afterwards, you are glad of this. Dig the (very Adam and the Ants-sounding) dual drum attack, the rumbling, limber, almost menacing bass lines, the jangly, rusty-sounding guitar. And that voice, that phenomenal booming voice. A voice that could give Tom Jones a run for his money. I must admit, given Johnny Wakelin’s propensity to sing about black people, “Black Superman,” Ali, Africa, etc, I thought he must actually be a black man himself. The first time I saw a video of him, after loving this song for so many years, I will admit I was shocked to find that he was in fact, a goofy, fashion-challenged white guy with lamb-chop sideburns who dressed like a pimp!

Does this song not possess the greatest break-beat you’ve ever heard? And what about the bit that starts at 1:41? The best!

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Thirty-nine years of Attica: Ali & Lennon speak out

September 9, 1971 saw the population of Attica State prison in western New York state rise up and seize the facility, taking 33 staff hostage. Attica was infamous at the time for both being stuffed at twice its capacity, and for the inhumane living conditions of its majority-black and Puerto Rican community. Prison officials allotted one bar of soap and roll of toilet paper per month and a bucket of water per week as a shower. Inmate mail was regularly censored, visits were highly restricted, and prisoner beatings happened constantly. Responding to news of the imminent torture of one of their fellows who’d assaulted a prison officer, a group of prisoners freed their brother and rose up after guards denied yard-time to the full population.

After four days of negotiation, Governor Nelson Rockefeller—who refused the prisoners’ requests to come to the prison and hear their grievances—blessed Correctional Services Commissioner Russell G. Oswald’s order to retake Attica by force.  This resulted in the death of nine hostages and 28 inmates in an episode that shocked the conscience of a nation wearied by war, assassination and urban unrest. It also saw the birth of modern prison reform.

The episode is chronicled in four feature film adaptations—and famously referenced in Dog Day Afternoon)—alongside numerous documentaries, the best being Cinda Firstone Fox’s recently preserved 1973 piece. That one isn’t up on YouTube, but here’s a short doc from the great grassroots media hub Deep Dish TV.

After the jump: Muhammad Ali recites and John & Yoko sing out on Attica…

Posted by Ron Nachmann | Leave a comment
Covered: Superman vs. Muhammad Ali
06:41 pm


Muhammad Ali


Via Covered, a blog dedicated to comic artists “covering” classic comic covers.

Posted by Jason Louv | Leave a comment
The Great Flip Wilson, Lena Horne’s Rocky Raccoon

My childhood television-watching memories were pretty much informed by three people: Maxwell Smart, Julia Child and the late, great Flip Wilson.  Comedian Clerow “Flip” Wilson was a Laugh-In regular and a frequent guest on Johnny Carson, but I remember him best, and most vividly, from his variety show that ran on NBC in the early 70s.

Whether he was dressed in drag as Geraldine (watch him flirt here with Muhammad Ali), or posing as the con-artist minister, “Reverend Leroy” (before he goes off to “fight sin” in Vegas, watch here as he puts in charge of his flock Redd Foxx‘s “Pussyfoot Johnson”), Flip and his show were definitely groundbreaking, and not just to my childhood mind—although I was probably the only kid in my neighborhood who went around shouting, The Devil Made Me Do It!

Anyway, The Flip Wilson Show was a regular stop for mainstream acts like Aretha Franklin and The Jackson 5, but, for his five years on primetime network TV, Flip was also a tireless champion of ripening greats like Lily Tomlin, Richard Pryor and Albert Brooks.   And while I don’t remember their appearances, some of them, fortunately, are now showing up on YouTube.  As “reissue fever” sweeps the land—or just Pitchfork—witness below the great Lena Horne doing her rendition of “Rocky Raccoon.”  Amazing!

Posted by Bradley Novicoff | Leave a comment
Lords Of The Revolution

I’m looking forward to next week’s VH1 series, Lords Of The Revolution, with an excitement approaching…apathy!  I mean, we all know the drill: yet another 5-parter assembled from already available footage both superior and less sanitized.  Still, with Leary, Warhol, Ali, Cheech & Chong, and The Black Panthers each spearheading a night, I’m keeping my fingers crossed. 

If you’re curious as to what it might look like, check out the VH1 trailer.  And for those of you who lack the time—or energy—to “tune in,” but still want a hit of era-defining idealism, click right here.


Posted by Bradley Novicoff | Leave a comment