The Resurrection: Atlanta, Racial Politics, and the Return of Muhammad Ali

Atlanta Mayor Ivan Allen Jr. with boxer Muhammad Ali during a press conference in Atlanta, Georgia, to promote his fight with Jerry Quarry, 1970, by Joe McTyre, Kenan Research Center, Atlanta History Center.

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The Resurrection: Atlanta, Racial Politics, and the Return of Muhammad Ali

by John Matthew Smith
Southern Cultures, Vol. 21, No. 2: Summer 2015

"In Atlanta, nothing else seemed to matter with the champ in town. He owned the city. It was a powerful scene—'sheer black, street-corner ebullience out for a Sunday evening promenade."

The wait was over.

On October 25, 1970, on the eve of Muhammad Ali’s first professional boxing match in forty-three months, African Americans flooded the streets of Atlanta, anxiously anticipating what Ali called his “day of judgment.” They came from all over: Birmingham, Chicago, Detroit, Harlem, Miami, and Philadelphia. Peachtree Street had never been more colorful. Rows of chrome covered cars, gold limos, and purple Cadillacs lined the road. One fan, a slender man smoking a foot-long pipe, wore an ankle-length mink coat matched with a tall mink hat. Another man who washed dishes for a living told a reporter that he had saved for months so he could buy a puce suit and bet one thousand dollars on Ali. Women dressed up like it was New Year’s Eve, sporting bouffant Afros, fake eyelashes, and sleek sequined mini skirts. The fight attracted a wide assortment of people, politicians and celebrities, hustlers and gangsters. The biggest names in black America were in town: Bill Cosby, Sidney Poitier, Hank Aaron, Harry Belafonte, Curtis Mayfield, Diana Ross, Coretta Scott King, Whitney Young, Ralph Abernathy, Andrew Young, and Julian Bond. It was, Sports Illustrated observed, “the most startling assembly of black power and black money ever displayed.”