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

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
04:28 pm
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
03:10 pm
‘William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe’: Powerful documentary streaming free now

Today is the 39th anniversary of the start of the Attica prison riots. In this clip from the documentary William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe, attorney Kunstler is called in to negotiate on behalf of the prisoners. The film was directed by Kunstler’s daughters, Emily and Sarah.

You can watch the entire film at the Point Of View website, click here. It will be streaming until midnight Pacific Time on September 21, 2010.

From the press release on William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe:

The man who had marched with Martin Luther King, Jr., and who had defended the Chicago 8 anti-war protesters, Native American activists at Wounded Knee and prisoners caught up in the Attica prison rebellion was now seen kissing the cheek of a Mafia client and defending an Islamic fundamentalist charged with assassinating a rabbi, terrorists accused of bombing the World Trade Center and a teenager charged in a near-fatal gang rape. The sisters remember the shock of disenchantment they felt. Disturbing the Universe is Emily Kunstler and Sarah Kunstler’s attempt to reconcile the heroic movement lawyer from the past with the father they knew.

“I’m not a lawyer for hire. I only defend those I love.” William Kunstler.



Posted by Marc Campbell
03:04 pm