When the great boxing and civil rights champion Muhammad Ali died, it was often mentioned that he had been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005. Ali, through his dissent as much as his accomplishment, blazed a path that made him an American icon who deserved — indeed, embodied — the accolade. Also cited often in the Ali encomiums was “The Ali Summit” — a meeting called by NFL great Jim Brown in 1967 to support Ali when he was stripped of his right to fight on the canvas because he wouldn’t fight in Vietnam.
At the summit illustrious personalities from the African American elite joined to support Ali. The photos show a veritable who’s who of black star athletes at the time. Next to the great Celtics center Bill Russell and Brown himself is a young Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, already an unyielding advocate for justice. Abdul-Jabbar, of course, went on to score more points than anyone else in NBA history, a fact that lent his lifetime of advocacy more power. He’s written books and essays and been tireless in demanding equality — and always on his own terms. There is currently a movement to make sure Abdul-Jabbar receives the Medal of Freedom, just as his friend and mentor Ali did. It’s sponsored by New York Congressman Joseph Crowley whose letter to President Obama about Abdul-Jabbar can be read here. More than 100 congressional signatures are in support. (Rep. Crowley and Abdul-Jabbar both attended Power Memorial High School in NYC, albeit years apart.)