We remember Muhammed Ali today, on the 30th Anniversary of A Conspiracy of Hope. He championed the case for Human Rights
Early on April 30,1976, I was awakened by a phone call from Dick Gregory. Dick was running in New Mexico, well into the "Dick Gregory Bicentennial Run against Hunger" across the USA in support of eliminating world hunger. Dick and I had planned this run for a year and there was good coverage at the starting point in LA. He wanted to finish the Run on July 4, 1976, the Bicentennial of the USA. He felt that on that important day this serious issue needed to be in the national dialogue, rather than just a bunch of ships going up the Hudson. Along the route, Dick spoke to civil groups, churches, synagogues, mosques and political figures.
But by the time he reached New Mexico, the press was just not providing good coverage, and it was time to change that. So Dick asked me and George O'Hara of Chicago to go out to the hotel in Maryland where Muhammed Ali was staying as he prepared to fight Jimmy Young that night. With some serious skepticism, we went to the hotel.
Per usual, Lil Gregory, Dick's wife and fellow activist, arranged for us to join the line inside the Champ's room. Ali was sitting behind a desk and speaking with each person as the line moved forward. Ali was the biggest and baddest looking man I had ever seen. But he was also quiet and serene. Ali told us that he was the greatest fighter of all time and he would destroy Jimmy Young that night. We agreed. Then he said, "What do you want?"
"Mr. Gregory is requesting you to join him on his anti-hunger run," I said. "We need the press you can bring." He repeated his assertion of greatness and his threat to beat Jimmy Young. Then he looked up at us and said, "I will pee blood for two weeks and pay for this myself?" I nodded sheepishly.
"Yes, I will do it." After his fight in Germany, he did exactly that. Ali was a man of his word and thus a champion.
We thanked the Champ profusely and stepped aside for a group of children who were next in line. There were about ten students. Special children. George and I were invited by Ali to join him and the children in his room. Ali proceeded to call every one of their parents and told them he was the greatest and that he would destroy Jimmy Young that night. They each agreed. Ali then asked George and me if we would like to go to Germany for the next fight as well. And "stick with me when we enter the arena tonight."
After 15 brutal rounds, Ali won the split decision. Instead of telling everyone he was the greatest, he used the microphone to support Dick Gregory 's run across America. He remembered every word George and I encouraged him to say. At the very top of his game, Ali took the time to support his friend Dick Gregory and the important issue Dick was raising, namely the end to world hunger.
Several years later, I recruited Dick Gregory and Muhammad Ali to be two of our presenters at Amnesty International's concert at Giant Stadium on June 15,1986. It was thirty years ago today. Bill Graham, John Sher and I were producing A Conspiracy of Hope, a six-city tour of the USA for Amnesty. Naturally I want these two voices for justice and peace and human rights to be there on that day. The eleven hour concert featured the Police, Miles Davis, U2, Bryan Adams, Joan Baez, Peter Gabriel, Yoko Ono, Ruben Blades, Hooters, Carlos Santana, Little Steven, Jackson Browne, Stanley Jordan, Lou Reed, Peter Paul and Mary, Fela Kuti and the Neville Brothers to name a few, was live on MTV and going out nationally in support of human rights and Amnesty. All this for a ticket price of just $36.
When Ali took to the stage, a massive roar erupted. John Sher kindly adjusted the mic for Ali to address the crowd. Then the rock and roll crowd went quiet. They wanted to hear from the Champ.
Listen to Ali speak for himself. Short, powerful and worth your time. Truly this man was the greatest.
Check out Create your Future to read more about Dick Gregory, Ali, and the human rights concerts.