Muhammad Ali Convicted of Draft Evasion: On This Day, June 20

Cover of the Danish newspaper Politken, June 4, 2016--a testament to Muhammad Ali's international renown.

When Muhammad Ali died on June 3, 2016, the world mourned. Many recalled his boxing prowess, some his powerful role in the Civil Rights Movement, others his philanthropy. But Ali also made legal history in his lifetime as a plaintiff before the US Supreme Court.

When notified that he was eligible for the draft, Ali applied for conscientious objector classification for religious reasons, based on his membership in the Nation of Islam. His application was denied. On the day he was supposed to join the US Army, Ali went to the Selective Service center in Houston but refused to be inducted into the Army.

His statement on April 28, 1967, made clear his stance on the case:

I strongly object to the fact that so many newspapers have given the American public and the world the impression that I have only two alternatives in taking this stand: either I go to jail or go to the Army. There is another alternative and that alternative is justice. If justice prevails, if my Constitutional rights are upheld, I will be forced to go neither to the Army nor jail. In the end I am confident that justice will come my way for the truth must eventually prevail.

Muhammad Ali was arrested and convicted of violating Selective Service laws on June 20, 1967. As a result of his stand on the Vietnam War and military service, he was stripped of his boxing license and his world heavyweight title, fined $10,000, and sentenced to five years in prison. (Read the original New York Times report on Alis conviction.Ali appealed the case all the way to the Supreme Court. In Clay v. United Statesby a unanimous decision, the Court overturned his conviction on June 28, 1971.

For more, check out "The Importance of Muhammad Ali" by Ali biographer Thomas Hauser in History Now 23: Turning Points in American Sports.