A deep dive into the Arkansas visit Muhammad Ali took to Little Rock, Pine Bluff and Fayetteville
I recently went on to the KUAF radio show “Ozarks at Large” to discuss the intricacies of Muhammad Ali’s 1969 to Arkansas. Give a listen to my talk with host Kyle Kellams here.
The visit lasted about five days in total and was filled to the brim with controversy. At one point, Muhammad Ali visited Pine Bluff. Below is excerpt from my upcoming book: African-American Athletes in Arkansas: Muhammad Ali’s Tour, Black Razorbacks and other Forgotten Stories [scroll through a digital preview here]
Ali then drove to Pine Bluff, where he walked into the union of what is now the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, the state’s largest historically-black school. A similar scene played out as had at LRU, with Ali counseling against violence while speaking against “forced” integration.
At that time, Ali was appealing his draft into the U.S. Army on the grounds he was a Black Muslim minister. A UAPB student asked him why he didn’t try to enter the military as a chaplain if he opposed violence on religious grounds. Ali answered by saying if he did, he would not be allowed to say what he believed. Ali also read some poetry and a song he had composed named “It’s All Over Mighty Whitey.”
The city of Pine Bluff is in Arkansas’ Delta, straddling the southern and eastern parts of the state, which in the late 1800s developed into a hotbed for the state’s first mass, black-nationalist movement: the Back-to-Africa migrations.
Approximately 600 black Arkansans emigrated to Liberia, an independent, west African republic which symbolized racial pride to many African Americans in the 19th century. Liberia’s elected black government offered free land to American settlers, an especially enticing offer to poor black farmers increasingly burdened by exploitative tenancy arrangements. Interest in Liberian immigration peaked in the 1890s, which was “a time when cotton prices hit rock bottom and white racism reached its zenith,” UCA historian Kenneth Barnes points out in “Journey of Hope: The Back-to-Africa Movement in Arkansas.” “The 1890s saw the greatest number of lynchings in American history. As it became increasingly clear that black Americans would not get a seat at the table, Liberia posed an alternative to integration, an escape to an all-black world.”
My upcoming book focuses squarely on the legacy of African-American athletes in the state of Arkansas, and the important interconnections between the sports world and larger issues of race relations and civil rights. Make sure to sign up to pre-order your own copy when it releases later in 2017.
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For more info about Ali’s trip to Little Rock, check out this post.