Muhammad Ali has passed away at the age of 74. Given the great love and honor shown to him since carrying the Olympic Torch at the Atlanta games in 1996 and being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by George Bush in 2005 it is perhaps difficult to remember how reviled he was in the 1960s after he converted to Islam, changed his name, and refused to be drafted.
David Susskind, the well regarded television producer and talk show host, said this to Ali in a bitter exchange in 1968:
I find nothing amusing or interesting or tolerable about this man. He’s a disgrace to his country, his race, and what he laughingly describes as his profession. He is a convicted felon in the United States. He has been found guilty. He is out on bail. He will inevitably go to prison, as well he should. He is a simplistic fool and a pawn.
We should remember these things, however, because more than Ali’s courage in the ring, it was Ali’s courage in fighting the US government and much of the US public that made him a great American.