It was two decades ago, and Muhammad Ali was still feisty at age fifty-four when Ed Bradley of CBS News interviewed and declared him, “The Greatest.” Born Cassius Clay in Louisville, Kentucky, he grew up to win a gold medal in boxing for America at the 1960 Olympics; and then tossed the medal into the Ohio River as a protest against his country’s racism.
It was last week, on June 3rd when the media announced that Muhammad Ali had passed away peacefully at the age of seventy-four; Ali was surrounded by his wife and nine children.
And I say, Ali ought to be awarded a posthumous title of “The Man Who Made America Great.”
Because Ali proved that the American Dream was attainable – with hard work and determination. The man who floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee, also fought for what is a foundation stone of the American Constitution – freedom to pursue your dreams, no matter your race, religion or economics – and Ali fought that fight with class, and a style that won the hearts of people worldwide; not just with his boxing skills, also with his humour and love of family.
In ways that nobody else could, Ali appealed simultaneously to people and organisations who otherwise agreed on little politically.
In the words of one organizer, Bob Moses, “Muhammad Ali galvanised the Civil Rights Movement.“
Named Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. after his father, the sporting champion denounced his birth name upon converting to Islam. Malcolm X, a key figure of the movement before his conversion to orthodox Islam, became a spiritual and political mentor for Clay, and he briefly referred to himself as Cassius X, before he was given the name Muhammad Ali (Praised one) in 1964 by Elijah Muhammad, his religious group’s leader.
Later, Ali announced to the media that, “Cassius Clay is a slave name. I didn’t choose it and I don’t want it. I am Muhammad Ali, a free name – it means beloved of God, and I insist people use it when people speak to me.”
Standing true to his new beliefs, Ali refused to be drafted into the US Army during the Vietnam War. He risked a jail sentence; ultimately Ali was forced out of the ring at the height of his career; denied a license, and banned from boxing for three years.
“Crucial to Ali’s connection to civil rights workers was their shared sense of urgency. Activists who were putting everything on the line, including their lives, could relate to Ali, who risked just about everything he had when he refused to be drafted into the Vietnam War. As Mississippi organiser Lawrence Guyot put it:
“”We were down there in these small, hot, dusty towns in an atmosphere thick with fear, trying to organise folk whose grandparents were slaves … And here was this beautifully arrogant young man who made us proud to be us and proud to fight for our rights.”” 
Muhammad Ali’s radical choices and daring speeches inspired many.
The New York Times columnist, William Rhoden wrote: “Ali’s actions changed my standard of what constituted an athlete’s greatness. Possessing a killer jump shot or the ability to stop on a dime was no longer enough. What were you doing for the liberation of your people? What were you doing to help your country live up to the covenant of its founding principles?” 
Here are a few snippets from Ed Bradley’s interview with Ali titled, “The Greatest.“
Produced by John Hamlin and aired in March 1996. CBS News: Muhammad Ali dies at 74:
This most famous of all heavyweight champions who ever lived has come to terms with the Parkinson’s syndrome that doctors say came from his years in the ring and by all rights should have laid him low, and probably would have if he weren’t Muhammad Ali. […]
“Yet it’s hard not to see the Muhammad Ali of today without remembering the Ali of yesterday,” continues Bradley.
Flashback to Ali in his prime:
Muhammad Ali: I am the king of the world.
Reporter: Hold it. Hold it. Hold it.
Muhammad Ali: I’m pretty.
Reporter: Hold it. You’re not that pretty.
Muhammad Ali: I’m a man’s man.
Reporter: Wait. Wait. […]
“Dr. Dennis Cope has been Ali’s physician for 16 years. Ali asked him to talk to us,” Bradley says during the 1996 interview.
Dr. Dennis Cope: He (Mohammad Ali) has had a development of what’s called Parkinson’s syndrome. And from our testing on him, our conclusion has been that that has been due to pugilistic brain syndrome resulting from boxing.
Ed Bradley: Pugilistic brain syndrome?
Dr. Dennis Cope: That’s correct.
Ed Bradley: What is–is that what people call punch-drunk?
Dr. Dennis Cope: That is a common term that was used for it in the past. I think with regard to his particular case, it doesn’t fit because all of our testing has indicated that his cognitive function, his ability to think clearly, to understand what’s going on, to really analyze situations hasn’t deteriorated at all. […]
He (Ali) keeps on going, on the road more often than not and mostly for charity, but also for business commitments that generate close to $1 million a year. His schedule only allowed him 90 free days last year to spend at his farm in southwestern Michigan, where he and Lonnie raise their five-year-old son Assad, Ali’s ninth child. […]
His wife, Lonnie Ali in 1996 said: Muhammad is very well taken care of. He is a very independent individual, probably always will be to the day he dies. He makes his own decisions. Muhammad’s a very happy man.
Watch the television special The Story Of Muhammad Ali in our Documentaries section.
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