05 Jun

News and Analyses, A Foreign Perspective


In Kentucky they still remember the jovial, skinny kid who used to tell people he’d one day be the heavyweight champion of the world

Lawrence Montgomery holds a picture from 1945 of neighborhood kids, including Ali sitting in a wagon.

Lawrence Montgomery holds a picture from 1945 of neighborhood kids, including Ali sitting in a wagon. Photograph: Matthew Teague for the Guardian

Louisville took the blow like a champ: still on its feet. Fists up. Still jawing. On Sunday morning at 22nd Street and Muhammad Ali Boulevard, the Reverend Larry Williams stood before the congregation at Zion Baptist Church and prayed: “We ask for strength for the family of the great Muhammad Ali.”

He raised his voice.

“We pray that they’ll have such peace they can come in rejoicing!”

Since word of Ali’s death arrived on Saturday morning, people across the city have come together in public to remember one of the city’s best-loved sons and to boast of his triumphs over his greatest foes. Not Frazier, or Liston or Foreman. But racial discrimination. Cowardice. War.

His funeral on Friday will reflect his multifaceted legacy; it will be an interfaith service, open to the public, streamed live on the website of the Muhammad Ali Center. From former president Bill Clinton to sportscaster Bryant Gumbel to Billy Crystal, a constellation of eulogists will try to describe the elements of Ali’s personality – the magisterial, the athletic, the witty. And it will be, above all, a Louisville affair. Before the service, Ali’s hearse will drive slowly through the city streets to Cave Hill Cemetery.

Ali arose from here – from a tiny pink house in Louisville’s west side – to become the most famous man in the world. He wielded that fame like a left jab. By the time he finished, he had changed the Louisville of his youth – a segregated, provincial city – for good.

“Not just Louisville.” said his childhood neighbor, Lawrence Montgomery. “The world.”

Ali started here on Grand Avenue, honing the irrepressible qualities that would carry him to victory inside the ring and out. Montgomery has lived all of his 81 years on the same block of Grand, and as he talked on his front porch his hand moved lightly from scene to scene, outlining ghosts: the site of the old tree, the path to the park, the young Cassius Clay, not yet called Ali.

“He was always, eh … braggadocious,” Montgomery said. “I remember him telling me: ‘I’m gonna be the heavyweight champion of the world. You watch.’ And I just laughed because he was a skinny kid.”

Listening to Montgomery is like listening to Ali himself, had Parkinson’s disease not beset him: the accent, the mannerisms, the heavy-lidded eyes that always seem just on the verge of winking.

“I guess that skinny kid showed me,” he said……………



Muhammad Ali (then Cassius Clay) with Malcolm X after Clay beat Sonny Liston for the heavyweight championship of the world.

Muhammad Ali (then Cassius Clay) with Malcolm X after Clay beat Sonny Liston for the heavyweight championship of the world. Photograph: Bob Gomel/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Image

Muhammad Ali was a cultural force to be reckoned with, the star of boxing’s golden era, when high culture met low culture and the two came together. Ali brought together black and white intellectuals and artists across the board – from Hunter S Thompson to Norman Mailer to George Plimpton to James Brown – and mixed with boxing’s regular cast of scoundrels.

Writers came not so much to witness a world heavyweight title fight as to bathe in the glow of a legend who refused to leave the party, a hero who would provide them with a story, however triumphant or sad. Ali not only excited the intelligentsia, he was friends with many of the most radical, sharp black men of his time. Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm X of the Nation of Islam, American footballer Jim Brown, singer Sam Cooke: Ali was close to all of them, spanning the worlds of art, sport and politics. He was even close friends with Lincoln Perry (better known as the minstrel performer Stepin Fetchit), a friendship explored in the play Fetch Clay, Make Man (2013).

Looking at the two black men on film, Ali and Perry could not have been more different. Ali embodied everything about black masculinity and potency that white America feared. He had a strong body that could not be controlled, a loud mouth that could not be shut (even under the threat of jail) and rippling muscles that could take on anyone who approached them. He played down to no one, and his staccato speech was sharp, poetic and confrontational. Perry, as Fetchit, was the opposite. He shrunk and played small to co-stars such as Will Rogers in Judge Priest. His speech was slurred, his walk a shuffle. For Hollywood, the Fetchit character played to the stereotype of black men as weak, lazy and dumb. Yet Perry also became the first black actor to get a named screen credit and to become a millionaire. Ali and he formed an unlikely friendship, as two black men who recognised the roles a racist country expected them to play and subverted them in different ways.

Ali was clearly a performer, but he was also a visual artist, of a genre which could generously be called outsider art. Looking at his works circa 1979 on the virtual Museum of Uncut Funk, there is an irrepressible joy in it. The artwork is childlike in its use of bright, expressive, crayon-like colours. The crowds watching him fight in Sting Like a Bee are represented with white, yellow and brown smiley faces. A portrait of the beauty of Islam is captured in Mosque II. White-clad figures inspire hope as they arrive to worship at a seaside mosque, drawn against bright orange ground, light blue water and deep blue sky.

The racist world Ali inhabited requires black men to be tough and hard. Ali’s drawings allow him a way not to be hard, or loud – but to be soft, joyous, kidlike, tender. Tenderness is often denied to black men, and giving it up becomes a price of our survival. As with his smile, it is a beautiful thing to see Ali indulge his tender side.

In this way, his artworks visualise one of Ali’s greatest quotes: “I know where I’m going and I know the truth, and I don’t have to be what you want me to be. I’m free to be what I want.” Most adults don’t have the courage to display themselves as artists – and famous people are very unlikely to show art that would seem amateur or childlike. But Ali made himself to be free both as a champ in the ring and on a canvas.

Ali was a great supporter of African American artists and performers, and – more importantly – he inspired countless artists. His face, quotes and likeness were a meme generator of their day. Ali inspired multiple songs, not just Johnny Wakelin’s Black Superman (“Muhammad, was known to have said/You watch me shuffle and I’ll jab off your head/He moves like the black superman/And calls to the other guy I’m Ali catch me if you can”), but also R Kelly’s The World’s Greatest and Muhammad Ali by Faithless…………….

Interior secretary did not say land would ‘revert’ to US government, officials say, as flyers reject Navajos from ‘party’ for proposed Bears Ears national monument

Overlook Ruin at the proposed Bears Ears national monument in Utah

Overlook Ruin at the proposed Bears Ears national monument in Utah. Photograph: Josh Ewing

Forged letters and flyers appearing at gas stations and post offices in tribal lands in Utah are spreading false information about a proposal to create a national monument that protects Native American land.

The proposed Bears Ears national monument, named for the Bears Ears Buttes in south-eastern Utah, would cover up to 1.9m acres of land that is culturally significant to Native American tribes. The land is considered sacred to tribe members, and it contains more than 100,000 archaeological sites and structures.

Supporters of the monument say the fake documents are an attempt to misinform Native Americans and undermine efforts to safeguard the land. Posted on bulletin boards, the documents include a fake letter from Sally Jewell, the interior secretary, stating that about 4m acres of the Navajo reservation will “revert” to the federal government.

The Department of the Interior said last month that Jewell sent no such letter, and that “President Obama has no intentions of reducing the size of the Navajo reservation”.

The false documents also include a flyer announcing that Jewell and Barack Obama will travel to the area in July to attend a party celebrating the designation, but that “no Utah Navajos are invited” to attend.

Cynthia Wilson, community outreach coordinator for Utah Diné Bikéyah, a not-for-profit group working to conserve lands significant to Native Americans, said the documents were “very misleading”. She said she worried people would “get the wrong idea of what the Bears Ears national monument designation would do”……………

US politics

Election 2016




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