It’s been over fifty-three years since Muhammad Ali spoke to a full house in the Iowa Memorial Union on the University of Iowa campus, but thanks to the Darwin Turner Audio Collection (and a grant to digitize this collection), anyone today can take a moment to listen to Ali’s words and advice to Hawkeye students back in 1967 on the digital exhibit Uptight and Laidback: Iowa City in the 1960s.
On November 20, 1967, Ali, who changed his name from Cassius Clay in 1964 after joining the Nation of Islam, came to the University as part of a series on Afro-American culture. The series, hosted by the Department of English and the Afro-American Studies Program, was to help provide a background for the course on Afro-American literature being offered at the University.
This recording is part of the Darwin Turner Audio Collection, a collection recently acquired by the University Archives. Darwin Turner became the chair of the newly formed Afro-American Studies Department in 1972, and held that position for nearly two decades. You can read more about his substantial contribution to the department and the study of African American culture in an Old Gold article written by University Archivist David McCartney. With the help of a recent grant from the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs, the University of Iowa Libraries has been working to digitize the over 400 recordings of speakers talking about African American culture.
This talk from Muhammad Ali demonstrates the mental strategy of this champion boxer. As the Daily Iowan article above states, “Muhammad Ali was a surprise, a refreshing experience. True, he jabbered, he chattered, he joked. But there was method to his madness. He had a point to make. And if you listened and laughed with him long enough you received an answer for your patience.”
His talk, which relied heavily on questions from the audience, involved a wide range of topics, including interactions with white TV personalities, his religion and the controversy around his stance on Vietnam, and the reason for using the term “Black” to describe a group of people.
This audio clip provides a rare glimpse into a time on Iowa’s campus. Since Muhammad Ali went to the audience almost straight away for questions, not only do you hear his stories and experiences, but you get a sense of what is on the mind of the students and community members who found themselves standing on the precipice of great change.