In 1971, A BRITISH journalist noted during a televised interview with Muhammad Ali that the boxer was the second most prominent American after President Richard Nixon. The journalist followed the pronouncement by asking the world’s heavyweight champion whether he would like to be president. Ali answered with an emphatic “no.” “Too dangerous,” the boxer quipped. Ali’s concern about being the president of the United States was not only because of the potential violence that might be directed against him for being a black man holding the most powerful position in the world. His resistance also was due to the extraordinary challenges that would likely confront him as the nation’s first black president.*
“Like in other words,” Ali informed the journalist, there’s “a ship, people are dancing on the ship, a lot of money is on the ship, a lot of food is on the ship, and I cannot integrate on the ship, I can’t have equality on the ship… I’m just in the galley working, and I could never get up and see the captain of the ship.” Ali explained while rubbing his forehead, “Now all of the sudden the man tells me ‘Say, come on down, Ali, out of the galley. Hi, I want
* “Muhammad Ali on the First Black President,” interview with Michael Parkinson, 1971. Available on YouTube.