On December 18, 1967, an overflow crowd filled the Fillmore Room on what is now the University at Buffalo’s South Campus to hear boxer Muhammad Ali speak. Ali was invited by the school’s Students for Democratic Society, The Resistance, and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
Early in 1967, Ali was stripped of his boxing license and heavyweight boxing title and after refusing to be conscripted into the U.S. military citing his religious beliefs and opposition to the Vietnam War. He was eventually arrested and found guilty on draft evasion charges. As his case worked its way through the appeal process, Ali was free on bail and spoke at colleges across the nation advocating African American pride and racial justice.
Before he spoke at the University at Buffalo, Ali insisted that all antiwar signs be removed from the room, explaining that he was not in Buffalo “to promote any demonstration or support any groups fighting the draft.” He said his refusal to be drafted into military service was a “personal matter and I’m just here to meet all my fans.” Ali answered questions from students on the proposed 1968 Olympic Games boycott, his toughest fights, and his financial status. Ali claimed he “earned over $2.5 million in boxing but taxes, lawyer fees, a divorce, and expensive tastes had taken most of it.” He refused to answer a question of what he thought about President Johnson stating “whether you like the man or not, you must have respect for him.” Muhammad Ali would also tour schools in Rochester, Syracuse and Albany during the week before Christmas of 1967.
The Muhammad Ali photos are part of the Prominent Visitors to Buffalo digital collection and come from the University Archives. This collection chronicles many of the politicians and activists that visited Buffalo in the past 50 years. Documentation from the University Archives includes photographs, coverage of events from the UB Spectrum student newspaper, and related ephemera. The collection currently includes Robert F. Kennedy, Richard M. Nixon, Lyndon B. Johnson, Muhammad Ali, and Ralph Nader.