A classic book that traces Muhammad Ali’s political development in the sixties
When Muhammad Ali died, many mourned the life of the greatest sportsman the world had ever seen. In Redemption Song, Mike Marqusee argues that Ali was not only a boxer but a remarkable political figure in a decade of tumultuous change. Playful, popular, always confrontational, Ali refashioned the role of a political activist and was central, alongside figures such as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, to the black liberation and the anti-war movements. Marqusee shows that sport and politics were always intertwined, and this is the reason why Ali remained an international beacon of hope, long after he had left the ring.
While David Remnick's King of the World focused on the character of Muhammad Ali, using historical context to buttress his portrait of the man, Marqusee has written a vibrant historical essay that reexamines Ali's role as a symbol of dissent and uses the man as a portal to an understanding of his era. In February 1964, the day after he shocked boxing experts by dethroning the much-feared Sonny Liston as heavyweight champion of the world, Cassius Clay had breakfast with Malcolm X and announced that he had joined the Nation of Islam. "I know where I'm going and I know the truth," he said, "and I don't have to be what you want me to be." From that moment, the young man who would soon become Muhammad Ali, who had a natural aversion to politics and a supremely independent spirit, was thrust into the center of events in an era of dramatic social change. Marqusee, who emigrated from America to Britain in 1971, argues that the true political context of Ali's actions and their international implications have been diluted in recent years as the defiant ethos of the 1960s has faded and as Ali has been appropriated as a corporate and even patriotic icon. Drawing upon the music of the day--Dylan, Hendrix, Sam Cooke--and ranging from Paul Robeson to Patrice Lumumba, Marqusee engagingly explains how Ali's penchant for turning events upside down often made him a symbol of heroism abroad and of disrespect for the status quo at home. As Marqusee charts how Ali helped create a global consciousness, he succeeds in knocking Ali off the respectable pedestal on which American culture has placed him, resurrecting him as the radical figure he truly was.