As the world remembered heavyweight champion and iconic activist Muhammad Ali, there was talk at Colby’s alumni reunion, June 2-5, of the visit paid to Colby by the great fighter and American public figure.
Colby’s copy of GOAT (Greatest Of All Time), the 75-pound Taschen art book tribute to Ali, is on display in Special Collections. Published in 2004, this volume was purchased for the Colby Libraries by Tony Maramarco ’71, who helped bring Ali to campus. Special Collections is open June 6-10 from 1 to 4 p.m. Beginning June 13 it will be open 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
In March 1970, at the height of the Vietnam War and amid Ali’s public battle with the U.S. Selective Service, the champ spoke to a packed Wadsworth Gymnasium at the invitation of the junior class. His speech was not recorded and few records of it remain from the time. But according to the Colby Echo, Ali was scheduled to speak on race relations, the draft, and his conversion to Islam.
According to Colby Magazine, Ali was characteristically outspoken, particularly on the subject of racism.
“Miss America is always a blonde white girl. … You folks don’t even know yet what people on other planets look like, but you’ve already decided that Miss Universe is going to be white,” the magazine reported Ali telling the crowd.
Ali, who died June 3 at 74, was a towering and controversial figure in both sports and politics. His unorthodox, dancing style in the ring, his joyful boasts and taunting of opponents, and his undisputed skill made him the most well-known athlete and one of the most recognizable people in the world. His political activism, including his outspoken refusal to take part in the war, made him a sought-after speaker. Colby may have been the only college in Maine where he appeared.
He was no stranger to the state, though. One of his most famous fights occurred five years earlier, in the unlikely venue of Lewiston, Maine. It was there that Ali, who had recently changed his name from Cassius Clay, retained his heavyweight crown on May 25, 1965, knocking out Sonny Liston in the first round in a fight remembered for the much debated “phantom punch.”
Ali’s speech in Colby’s gym came during a turbulent time on campus, when the nation was wracked by protests over the Vietnam War and race relations. It came weeks before a national student strike that closed the semester before final exams were held. And three weeks earlier the group Students Organized for Black Unity occupied Lorimer Chapel with a list of demands to better integrate the College—a protest that that eventually led to changes including one of the earliest African-American Studies programs among liberal arts colleges.