When my dad died, I found this autograph from Muhammad Ali among his papers.
I turn 68 years old in a few days.
In 1964, when I was 16, I lay in bed with a transistor radio close to my ear, listening to the Los Angeles rhythm and blues station KGFJ. There was no live radio or television broadcast of the heavyweight championship fight going on that night. The DJ, Hunter Hancock, would interrupt the music with reports of each round of the battle between Cassius Clay and Sonny Liston, up until the seventh when Liston quit.
I quietly cheered.
I cannot imagine the Sixties Revolt without thinking about Muhammad Ali.
Not the Black Revolt. Not the student revolt. Not the anti-war movement.
The Champ was all about rebellion against all the injustice that brought us into the streets.
Few writers will make the point that in recent years they have tried to turn the Rebel Ali into a puppy dog.
In the Sixties, he was no puppy dog. He was the Rebel Ali. The government, the boxing bosses and the media hated him for it.
We loved him for it.
I often tell the story about the day I personally met Ali at a Los Angeles anti-war rally that led to a march on the Century City Hotel where LBJ was speaking. Before our protest could get near the hotel we were greeted by the LAPD in what would become known as the Century City Police Riot, with hundreds – maybe thousands – being clubbed and beaten.
Just prior to the march I came upon a group that had surrounded The Champ. Ali was smiling and signing autographs when I suddenly got the idea to pull out my draft card and have him autograph it.
Which he did!
Next week I will be in L.A. with a bunch of my high school friends. We graduated from Fairfax High School fifty years ago.
We have been sharing memories online.
“The LBJ protest was the first time the police hit me with a billy club. Such fond memories,” wrote my friend Les.
Ali may be gone now.
But he was so with us then.