We are very pleased to share an exclusive sneak preview with world-renowned documentary filmmaker Ken Burns as he gives us special introduction for his upcoming documentary series, Muhammad Ali, in advance of the September 19 premiere on PBS 8/7 c.
KEN BURNS: Hey, everyone. Along with co-director Sarah Burns and David McMahon, I'm excited to share with Bank of America this early screener of our forthcoming documentary, Muhammad Ali, which will air on PBS September 19th through the 22nd. Muhammad Ali just happened to be a boxer, but it was his sense of purpose, even at a young age, that drove him to be the greatest. During the prime of his career, Ali risked it all and stood by his convictions, including his religious beliefs, opposition to the war in Vietnam and stance against racial bias and prejudice, no matter the consequences. Polarizing and vilified early in his life, Mohammad Ali is today, one of the most beloved Americans of the 20th century. Enjoy this preview of our film, Muhammad Ali. Thank you.
INTERVIEWER: Malcolm X, what do you think of Cassius's victory in Miami?
MALCOLM X: I think it was a great victory. He proved he was the best man.
INTERVIEWER: And do you think that Cassius, as being a Black Muslim has had anything to do with this victory?
MALCOLM X: Well, I haven't heard him say he was a Black Muslim. He's a clean-living young man. And this is the main thing that the Honorable Elijah Muhammad does teach in spreading the religion of Islam throughout, among our people in this country.
INTERVIEWER: Mr. X, how long has Cassius been a Black Muslim? Do you know that?
MALCOLM X: Well, I don't know. Cassius is probably more capable of speaking for himself than any other man in this country.
NARRATOR: On the morning of February 26th, 1964, Cassius Clay returned to the Miami Beach Convention Center, where the previous night he had beaten Sonny Liston to claim the heavyweight title. He was just 22 years old.
ROBERT LIPSYTE: Clay gave a very gentlemanly interview. I don't have to be wild and crazy anymore. I could be a nice gentleman. And all the older reporters left very satisfied. The younger reporters, we stayed talking to him. What's this about you and the Black Muslims? And suddenly, he said, "Redbirds, stay with Redbirds and Bluebirds with Bluebirds. You stay with people of your own kind. That's nature."
MUHAMMAD ALI: I don't have to be what you want me to be. I'm free to be what I want to be, and think what I want to think.
ROBERT LIPSYTE: And that really sounded like an athletic declaration of independence, something that we had never heard before, in any sport. And it was really a very powerful moment. And then he went on.
MUHAMMAD ALI: I wasn't forcing myself into neighborhoods where I'm not wanted. I wasn't busting down those schools and shaming America, huh? I wasn’t doing nothing, I was just around colored people. And now I'm catching more hell than all of the people whose raising hell. I like everybody. One Negro coming to school and the police forces out there, the Mayor and the governor and the firemen with the hoses, and race riots and whoopin’ ‘em.
INTERVIEWER: Do you think it’s awful?
MUHAMMAD ALI: Yes, awful. That's why I'm not around it. I might get killed.
NARRATOR: The next day, he told a reporter, "My religion is Islam. I believe Allah is God. I think this is the true way to save the world, which is on fire with hate."
SHERMAN JACKSON: He is 22 years old and he's standing up to the whole establishment. I am the world champion. I have changed my religion. And you're simply going to have to accept it.
GERARD EARLY: His joining a faith community, which is in essence of what he did, it wasn't accepted. It was seen more as something political because of the racial aspect of it. It was unacceptable to many, many white people of the time. He was vilified and it was thought that he was un-American. That was the big thing. He was un-American.
ANNOUNCER: Demonstrations of all types are prohibited. Curfew at 9:00 p.m.
MALE VOICE: Guardsmen use tear gas to break up another Negro protest.
NARRATOR: In the four years it had taken Cassius Clay to rise from little known Olympic hopeful, to heavyweight champion of the world, African-Americans had waged a non-violent campaign for integration, organizing freedom rides, challenging the unlawful segregation of schools, and staging a massive demonstration on the Mall in Washington, D.C.
MARTIN LUTHER KING: There will be neither the rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights.
NARRATOR: They were met by a White America, violently determined to maintain the racial status quo.
FIGHT ANNOUNCER: Winner by a TKO in the seventh round, Cassius Clay!
NARRATOR: Clay thrilled those who identified with his strong sense of racial pride, but many others were angered by what they regarded as his lack of humility, his refusal to abide by the old social order and his association with the Nation of Islam, which preached the separation of the races. To them, Cassius Clay was ungrateful and offensive and a threat that needed to be stopped.
WALTER MOSLEY: I was, as a child, afraid of Cassius Clay because he called up violent emotions in Black men specifically. And the community, I lived in Watts at the time. And what I saw in him was something that could cause anything to happen. And it was true of a lot of people. Certainly everybody was afraid of Malcolm X because he said they're stealing from us. They robbing from us. They hate us. They kill us. We all knew it, but you're not supposed to be saying that. And you could see it resonating in people. Those people who were living in that five hundred years of oppression. Muhammad Ali was a spark, and I was standing in a field of gasoline and thinking, oh, no, I'm going to be in trouble.
NARRATOR: After the United States escalated its involvement in Vietnam by committing combat soldiers in 1965, the demand for troops increased. The Selective Service lowered its standards. Muhammad Ali, once disqualified, was now eligible for the draft.
ROBERT LIPSYTE: I was in Miami to do some feature story about him. He comes out and he is steaming. He had just heard that he had been reclassified 1A.
MUHAMMAD ALI: I just can't understand how they could reclassify me as 1A when they were the ones who said, the government officials were the ones who said, that I was 1Y and that I wasn't qualified. It was their decision. Now, all of a sudden, I'm 1A without any test, without notifying me or checking to see if I'm any wiser that I was the last time, or any worser.
INTERVIEWER: If you're drafted, will you fight for your country? I'm not saying nothing about things.
MUHAMMAD ALI: I don't have to say I don't have to say nothing about that. They haven't drafted me yet. And it's a touchy thing. Touchy question. And I'd rather not say nothing.
NARRATOR: The next morning, Muhammad Ali offered a more coherent argument against joining the military. "I am a member of the Muslims, and we don't go to wars unless they are declared by Allah himself," he told a reporter for The Chicago Daily News. "I don't have no personal quarrel with those Viet Congs."
ROBERT LIPSYTE: "I ain't got nothing against them Viet Cong." And it was like the world stopped. It was a real feeling that he was not the right champion for America. How could a boxer, a violent man, refuse to serve his country? What's really important was just how despised Muhammad Ali was throughout America. People who felt that they were patriots, you know, people who were sending their sons to war, who had fought themselves in World War II and Korea, which was not that far back, who really saw this reprehensible character, who was, you know, making millions, taking everything from America and giving nothing back.
NARRATOR: In 1966, an overwhelming majority of American citizens supported the Vietnam War. Jim Murray of the Los Angeles Times called Ali "the greatest American patriot since Benedict Arnold." "Go to some mother in Iowa," Murray urged Ali, "and suggest she sent her son instead." Another writer, called him "the worst influence on people since Adolf Hitler." Later that month, Muhammad Ali applied for conscientious objector status based on his religious beliefs.
SALIM MUWAKKIL: He was emulating Elijah Muhammad, who had refused to enter the service himself in the 40s. He was following the dictates of the nation of Islam. And that definitely diminished his popularity in America in general. And not just in the white community. There were a lot of African-Americans, a lot of Black people, who thought that he was insufficiently loyal and appreciative of the opportunities he's had as an American, and he should show his dedication to the country and be willing to fight.
NARRATOR: Ali's next fight had been scheduled for March 29th, 1966, in Chicago against the 6 foot 6 Ernie Terrell, the boxer who had been awarded the World Boxing Association title after they had stripped it from Ali. Most boxing fans still viewed Ali as the real champ and a defeat of Terrell would cement his claim. "I want our soldiers and Marines to see what a real champion looks like," said Terrell, who promised to sign up for an exhibition tour in Vietnam after defeating Ali.
BOB ARUM: And we announced the fight and tickets were going very well and we were securing closed-circuit exhibitors around the country. I had hoped it would be the biggest Ali promotion ever at that point. When Ali said, "I got nothing against the Viet Cong," Mayor Daley immediately contacted the Illinois Athletic Commission and told them to throw us out of Chicago.
NARRATOR: To salvage the fight, Ali backed away from his statements and offered to come before the Illinois State Athletic Commission to apologize. But after having breakfast with Elijah Muhammad before the hearing, he reversed course.
COMMISSIONER 1: I'm asking you if you apologize for the unpatriotic remarks that you made.
MUHAMMAD ALI: Anything, I'm not apologizing for nothing like that because I don't have to. I'm apologizing to the people who are in charge of the Selective Service. Those are the people that will take this up. I'm not in court now for that. I'm a champ of the world. This is athletic commissioner. And I'm here to fight for the title. And I'm just apologizing for what I said to the newspapers and to the press when I should have had these things to say. And they will now be said with the people who are in charge of this.
COMMISSIONER 2: Mr. Clay.
MUHAMMAD ALI: Muhammad Ali, sir.
COMMISSIONER 2: Mr. Clay, or
MUHAMMAD ALI: Muhammad Ali, sir.
COMMISSIONER 2: Mr. Muhammad Ali, either one.
MUHAMMAD ALI: Just Muhammad Ali, sir.
COMMISSIONER 2: When you appeared before this commission before, if I recall correctly, you said you were the people's champion.
MUHAMMAD ALI: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER 2: Do you think that you're acting like a people's champion?
MUHAMMAD ALI: Yes, sir.
NARRATOR: That same day, the Illinois attorney general declared the fight illegal.
ATTY. GEN. WILLIAM CLARK: We determined that the application and the license violate state law.
ERNIE TERRELL: I don't know what kind of statements Clay made, the only thing that I can figure out about Clay is he's guilty of being stupid.
BOB ARUM: And once we got out of Chicago, every city in the United States virtually did a pile-on. And the pile-on was "Kalamazoo will not accept the fight." You know, nobody asked them. But so it became obvious to me that we couldn't do the fight in the United States.
NARRATOR: Arum eventually found a venue for the fight in Toronto, Canada, but Terrell rejected the terms of the new contract and pulled out. With less than three weeks to go, promoters scramble to find another opponent. George Chuvalo, the Canadian heavyweight champion, agreed to take Terrell's place.
JERRY IZENBERG: He's going to fight George Chuvalo in Toronto because that patriotic Mayor Daley of Chicago has said he can't abide traitors fighting in his midst. So, I go up there, and I come to Sully's AC Gym. I go in the back. And Luis Sarria, the Cuban exile, is giving him a massage. He said, "What are you doing here?" I said, well somebody said there's a fight. He said "nah, you know there's not much of a fight." I said, "well, I'll tell you the truth." Muhammad, I'm not going to lie to you. A lot of young American men who do not want to fight in this war for reasons of conscience or religion or whatever else are coming to Canada, and they've been granted political asylum. So, I'm here to see if you’ll go home. He got off that thing so fast and got in my face. I thought he was going to hit me. He said, "You know better than that." He said, "look," and these are the words I remember them so well. "America is my birth country. No one's going to chase me out of my birth country. I belong in my birth country. Now, I don't make the laws of my birth country. So if the law, says I got to go to jail, I'll go to jail. Elijah did. I will do it. But I'm going home to my birth country. And you could tell that to everybody. I was positive he would go to jail if he had to.
NARRATOR: George Chuvalo lasted all 15 rounds, giving Ali what he called his toughest fight yet.
After four fights abroad, Ali's promoters had finally managed to secure an American venue, the Astrodome in Houston, Texas. A brand new and first of its kind domed stadium dubbed the Eighth Wonder of the World. Ali had agreed to buy Cleveland "Big Cat" Williams, an Army veteran who had once been shot by a police officer during a drunk driving arrest. Williams had knocked out 51 of his 71 opponents. It would be the largest audience for an indoor boxing match in history.
MICHAEL BENTT: I think his masterpiece is with Cleveland Williams. That's Picasso, right? That's Baryshnikov, right? That's Miles Davis. He throws like a 10 punch combination. He's going backwards, man. Now, look, I don't know how to define that. I'm not a scientist, but like that kind of artistry will never be seen again. But he did that. It looked effortless. And it looked like he came out the womb doing that.
NARRATOR: Introducing a new move he dubbed "The Ali Shuffle," he peppered Williams with jab after jab as the Big Cat struggled to land a single punch. Ali floored his challenger three times in the second round. "It was a two fisted assault of vicious effectiveness," wrote frequent critic Arthur Daly, who declared that Ali had won over all the doubters. A minute into the third round, the referee ended the fight.
FIGHT ANNOUNCER: And the referee is going to stop that. Champion, Cassius Clay will defend that title once again. And for now he has successfully defended it against the man who was supposed to be the hardest hitter.
JONATHAN EIG: Ali, late in life, talked about this tallying angel, he called it.
That there was an angel up there who counted all the good things you did in life and all the bad things you did in life. And if you had more bad things and good things, you were going to Hell. And he had a very vivid impression of what Hell meant. And he acknowledged that he had a lot of negative marks, that the tallying angel was not going to be happy with the way he treated women in particular.
NARRATOR: 30 years after Ali first faced Joe Frazier, a reporter asked him about their long running feud. "I called him a lot of names that I shouldn't have called him," Ali admitted. "I apologize for that. I like Joe Frazier. Me and him was a good show." Frazier never forgave Ali. Later, he expressed sorrow at having abandoned Malcolm X. "Turning my back on Malcolm was one of the mistakes that I regret most in my life," he wrote. "I wished I'd been able to tell Malcolm I was sorry that he was right about so many things."
RASHEDA ALI: Daddy, evolved. He became better. And daddy said that, "I'm bigger than boxing." That meant boxing was this much. His evolution into the person he is today is way bigger than him just boxing. And I think he knew that. And he carried it with him. His love. And he gave it to every single person he met. And I think that's beautiful.
NARRATOR: As the 20th century came to an end, Newsweek, Time, and Sports Illustrated, all named him Athlete of the Century. In the days after the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, American Muslims were the victims of hate crimes simply because of their faith. "I am a Muslim. I am an American," Ali responded. "If the culprits are Muslim, they have twisted the teachings of Islam. Whoever performed the terrorist attacks does not represent Islam. God is not behind assassins."
SHERMAN JACKSON: What I hope is that Muhammad Ali will be a constant reminder to America of just how thoroughly American a believing, practicing, sincerely committed Muslim can be. Whatever one's background is, Ali, belongs to America. All of us. And I think that he belongs to all of us because he affected all of us. And I hope that that's part of the legacy that he will leave, that America won't forget Ali, as this American Muslim with equal emphasis on American-Muslim.
NARRATOR: On November 9th, 2005, President George W. Bush presented Ali with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the United States. That same year, the Muhammad Ali Center, a museum dedicated to his life and legacy, opened in Louisville.
HOWARD BRYANT: Muhammad Ali was an activist who fought to reach us a certain way and to move America in a certain way and move individuals in a certain way. I'm going to take this path, I believe that I'm right, and even if I'm not right, I'm still me. And to be able to follow that and to know that there was going to be an enormous price to pay for that and to have that be generational, to have that live on beyond you is extremely valuable. Everything that he did couldn't be undone.
FEMALE: Can looking back push us forward? Will that voice be heard through time? Can our past, inspire our future? Bank of America proudly supports Ken Burns and the stories from our past that help us move forward.
Due to COVID-19 and its impact on the current environment, the United States Postal Service is unable to deliver mail to certain foreign countries. As a result, Merrill will be delaying mailings to impacted clients. Click here for additional details. Click here to see which countries are impacted.
Investing involves risk. There is always the potential of losing money when you invest in securities.
Asset allocation, diversification and rebalancing do not ensure a profit or protect against loss in declining markets.
Merrill, its affiliates, and financial advisors do not provide legal, tax, or accounting advice. You should consult your legal and/or tax advisors before making any financial decisions.
This material is not intended as a recommendation, offer or solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security or investment strategy. Merrill offers a broad range of brokerage, investment advisory (including financial planning) and other services. Additional information is available in our Client Relationship Summary.
Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Incorporated (also referred to as “MLPF&S” or “Merrill”) makes available certain investment products sponsored, managed, distributed or provided by companies that are affiliates of Bank of America Corporation (“BofA Corp.”). MLPF&S is a registered broker-dealer, registered investment adviser, Member SIPC and a wholly owned subsidiary of BofA Corp.
Insurance and annuity products are offered through Merrill Lynch Life Agency Inc., a licensed insurance agency and wholly owned subsidiary of Bank of America Corporation.
Trust and fiduciary services are provided by Bank of America Private Bank, a division of Bank of America, N.A., Member FDIC, or U.S. Trust Company of Delaware. Both are wholly-owned subsidiaries of Bank of America Corporation.
Banking products are provided by Bank of America, N.A. and affiliated banks, Members FDIC and wholly owned subsidiaries of Bank of America Corporation.
Investment, insurance and annuity products:
|Are Not FDIC Insured||Are Not Bank Guaranteed||May Lose Value|
|Are Not Deposits||Are Not Insured by Any Federal Government Agency||Are Not a Condition to Any Banking Service or Activity|
Then we can provide you with relevant answers.Get started
You can click the "Return to Merrill; button now to return to the previous page, or you can close the new window after you leave.