Count me among the millions who loved Muhammad Ali and who feared when I went to bed last night that I’d wake to this morning’s news of his death at age 74.

Thanks to Mark Moseley and our friends at KARK, my attention was drawn to a fabulous bit of history by Dan Durning, a student at the University of Arkansas in 1969 when Ali was invited to speak at a UA symposium. Ali, a draft resister, was then banned from boxing and was making a living on the lecture circuit.


Durning would become a Fulbright scholar, a Ph.D. in public policy and an academic and author and now lives in Washington state. But then, he was a Young Republican (Rockefeller-style) and the UA YRs were stirring up support for Ali and criticizing the Arkansas senators who’d put on a show of demagoguery against Ali’s appearance on campus. (Our Ernest Dumas was on the scene with coverage at the time, of course, and our former cartoonist, George Fisher, contributed his own commentary in the North Little Rock Times.)

Durning has unearthed and posted Arkansas Gazette coverage of the tempest, full of the extended remarks of the likes of Mutt Jones, Dan T. Sprick and Milt Earnhart. It is cause to remember fondly Sen.W. D. “Bill” Moore of El Dorado, one of a lonely few Senate voices in support of freedom of expression. Another was the only Republican in the Senate then, Jim Caldwell of Rogers.


Ali did speak — in favor of racial separatism and even somewhat approvingly of George Wallace, then in segregationist flower. The objecting senators went to campus six days later to explain why Ali’s supposed communism made him unsuitable as a campus speaker. On the other side was Jim Caldwell, who said Ali had as much right to be heard as Mutt Jones. A crowd favorite was Rep. Herb Rule of Little Rock, still among us and still fighting the liberal fight.

He noted that a large American Legion Post in Little Rock had called for legislation that could preclude anyone under indictment for a felony from appearing on a state supported campus. Rule said that under such circumstances you couldn’t have had Gandhi on your campus nor Christ nor Socrates. Rule got a standing ovation when he told the audience, “The University is the last place a person should be denied the right to state his views. …The University is the cradle of liberty in this country.”

If you don’t read any other long read today, click on the link to Durning’s piece and read it. Great stuff. Example: The YR pamphlet encouraging dispatch of Dan T. Sprick to Vietnam.