Muhammad Ali & Sly Stone Get Into a Heated Debate on Racism & Reparations on The Mike Douglas Show (1974)

Ah, the 70s… an Amer­i­can pres­i­dent was impeached for crim­i­nal activ­i­ty; a con­gress­man, Wayne Hays, resigned for sleep­ing with his sec­re­tary, after divorc­ing his wife to mar­ry a dif­fer­ent sec­re­tary; anoth­er con­gress­man, Bud Shuster—who described Hays as “the mean­est man in the house”—called for an inves­ti­ga­tion of Water­gate spe­cial pros­e­cu­tor Archibald Cox, after Cox was fired by the soon-to-be impeached pres­i­dent… ‘twas a dif­fer­ent time, chil­dren, a sim­pler time….

Well, at any rate, they sure wore fun­ny suits back then, eh? Those lapels…. But just like today, pol­i­tics mixed freely with sports and enter­tain­ment in con­tro­ver­sial and tele­vi­su­al ways. Box­ers got rat­ings, singers got rat­ings, politi­cians like “mean­est man in the house” Wayne Hays got rat­ings, even before his sex scan­dal, when he appeared on TV with box­ers and singers—appeared, that is, on The Mike Dou­glas Show in 1974 with Muham­mad Ali and Sly Stone. Actor and activist Theodore Bikel was there too, though you might blink and miss him in the fra­cas just above.

First, Hays offers some banal opin­ions on the sub­ject of cam­paign financ­ing, anoth­er one of those bygone 70s issues. But when Dou­glas pos­es the ques­tion to Ali of whether or not he’d ever run for office, things pick up, to say the least. Ali refus­es to play the enter­tain­er. He launch­es flur­ry after flur­ry of jabs at white Amer­i­ca, and at Hays, who does his best to stay upright under the onslaught. “Ali is unyield­ing,” writes Dan­ger­ous Minds, “intense and bril­liant.”

Ali takes on a seri­ous ques­tion fac­ing Black nation­al­ists of the 60s and 70s, from the Pan­thers to the Nation of Islam, whose views Ali embraced at the time, along with, per­haps, some of their ugly anti-Semi­tism. (The fol­low­ing year he con­vert­ed to Sun­ni Islam, and lat­er became a Sufi.) Should Black activists par­tic­i­pate in the oppres­sive sys­tems of the U.S. gov­ern­ment? Can any­one do good from inside the halls of impe­ri­al­ist pow­er?

Hays makes an inte­gra­tionist case, and cham­pi­ons Black lead­ers like con­gress­woman Bar­bara Jor­dan. Ali is relent­less­ly com­bat­ive, call­ing for repa­ra­tions. Sly slides in to clar­i­fy and paci­fy, play­ing medi­a­tor and ref­er­ee. Dou­glas gets off the applause line, “isn’t it time we all tried to live togeth­er.” Ali refus­es to gloss over racism and eco­nom­ic inequal­i­ty. No peace, he says in effect, with­out jus­tice. Aren’t we glad, forty-four years lat­er, that we’ve ironed all this out? See the full show above for much more heavy­weight com­men­tary from Ali and some­times fuzzy coun­ter­point from Sly. They go back and forth with Dou­glas for ten min­utes before Hays and Bikel join.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

“Muham­mad Ali, This Is Your Life!”: Cel­e­brate Ali’s Life & Times with This Touch­ing 1978 TV Trib­ute

Muham­mad Ali Gives a Dra­mat­ic Read­ing of His Poem on the Atti­ca Prison Upris­ing

James Bald­win Bests William F. Buck­ley in 1965 Debate at Cam­bridge Uni­ver­si­ty

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

by | Permalink | Comments (1) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (1)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • mobileme says:

    For a site pur­port­ing to pro­vide facts about cul­ture and soci­ety, would it be too much for some sim­ple fact check­ing? For exam­ple, Richard Nixon was not impeached for his role in Water­gate. He resigned to avoid the stig­ma. Had it only been one ref­er­ence, that would have been bad enough but your mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tion was used as a piv­otal aspect to the whole “feel” of the sto­ry.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.