They were there to meet with Ali, who was a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War. There was not a more inflammatory figure in the country at that point than Ali, who was a member of the so-called “Black Muslims”, who many in the media accused of ‘hating white people.’
Ali was the man who summed up his protest against the war succinctly: “I ain’t got no quarrel with the VietCong…no VietCong ever called me nigger.”
Can you imagine how people reacted to a black man talking like that, back then? Ali was fearless about speaking out about the issues of society. So, of course, anyone who stood with him was subjective to the same backlash.
The men in that picture chose to do so, anyway.
By standing with Ali they were putting their careers on the line. However, it was something that occurred on a regular basis in that era.
John Carlos and Tommie Smith protested the treatment of African-Americans in America with their defiant fists at the 1968 Olympics. Sports stars served as body guards for civil rights leaders, and spoke out against inequality.
In 1961 Russell refused to play a game in Kentucky because he and his black teammates were refused service at a local hotel. That same year pro golf Charlie Sifford took on the PGA Tour’s exclusion of black golfers. In 1965, 21 AFL stars forced the league to move its All-Star game from New Orleans to Houston because of the treatment they were receiving in the Big Easy.
Here is my list: The notable absence from that picture is a woman. So, I am starting my list by seating Venus and Serena Williams. What they have done in the world of tennis is simply remarkable, and they have celebrated their blackness at every turn, refusing to be define by what I can only call racist elements of tennis.
Former NBA player, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson is at the table. He became Sacramento’s first African-American mayor when he was elected in 2008, and then he was re-elected in 2012.
Magic Johnson is there, too. His community activism, philanthropy and his willingness to do business in black communities makes him a leader.
Former Tampa Bay Bucs running back Warrick Dunn has a seat because of his giving. He has given 139 homes to single mother families over the years. Dunn’s work honors his mother. Dunn’s mother, Betty, a police officer, was murdered in 1993.
I would leave a seat empty for Arthur Ashe, the tennis great, and humanitarian. Former Atlanta Mayor and renowned civil rights activist Andrew Young once said of Ashe, “He took the burden of race and wore it as a cloak of dignity.”
I am interested to see who sits at your table.