Editor’s Pick

01 July 2016
david fenton / archive photos / getty images
david fenton / archive photos / getty images

THE BOXING CHAMPION Muhammad Ali marches in a protest in New York City in September of 1970, with members of the Black Panther Party—a radical group seeking to empower black Americans.

Ali, who died early last month, was born in 1942, in Kentucky: a state in the racially-segregated south of the United States. Boxing offered an escape from the deprivation he faced as a young black man. He won an Olympic gold medal at the age of 18, and went on to clinch many more titles in professional boxing, including the world heavyweight championship.

As a fighter, Ali was an especially resonant symbol of black pride during the American civil-rights movement of the 1960s, because activists frequently suffered police brutality while peacefully demonstrating against racial discrimination. As Ali became more political over the course of the movement, he forged ties with Malcolm X, the radical black leader; the Nation of Islam, an organisation of black Muslims; and the Black Panthers. He was particularly influenced by the Panthers’ opposition to the US invasion of Vietnam—which they deemed an imperialist conquest born of a racism similar to the kind black Americans were facing.