CLEVELAND — It was 55 years ago this month when Muhammad Ali and a group of leading African American athletes, including Browns running back legend Jim Brown, held a news conference in Cleveland after Ali refused to serve in the United States military in Vietnam.
Ali used his boxing platform to talk about the war abroad and what was going on in America. He said, “Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on Brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs?”
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jim Brown, Bill Russell, and Carl Stokes were some of the athletes and political figures at the meeting on June 4, 1967.
The goal of the summit was to convince Ali to take a deal from the federal government to do boxing exhibitions for U.S. troops in exchange for the draft-dodging charges to be dropped.
But Ali stood firm by his beliefs.
“They grilled him. I mean, they really grilled Ali on his beliefs,” said Branson Wright, a Cleveland-based filmmaker and journalist.
Many of the men at the summit had military backgrounds, and did not agree with Ali’s beliefs, but when he wouldn’t budge after hours of questioning, they decided to stand by him during a press conference after the summit.
“They said, 'We're going to support him. We're going to support his right to be a conscientious objector.' And they had that press conference afterward and showing that support. And I just think it was a monumental moment for athletes and for Black athletes at that time,” Wright said.
To honor the anniversary of the event that had a lasting imprint on the history of athlete activism, the National Basketball Social Justice Coalition, in partnership with the Cleveland Cavaliers, will dedicate a new marker at the site of the historical summit, formerly the site of the Negro Industrial Building.
The historical marker will be placed in front of what is now the home of the American Cancer Society at 10501 Euclid Avenue.
The marker was created by designers from the Marcus Graham Project, a Cavaliers community partner and NBA Foundation grantee.
Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb, Cavs president of operations Koby Altman and Alex Stokes, the great-niece of Mayor Carl Stokes, are some of the individuals who will be in attendance during Friday’s dedication.
Last year, a virtual panel discussed the impact of the historic Cleveland Summit on athlete activism. Watch the video in the media player below:
RELATED: Virtual panel discusses impact of historic Cleveland Summit on athlete activism
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