A rare letter written by boxing great Muhammad Ali demanding exemption from the Vietnam War draft has emerged for sale for £35,000.
Ali was the reigning heavyweight champion of the world when in 1966 was called up to serve in the US army as they waged war against Vietnam.
But the 24-year-old prize fighter, who had converted to Islam two years previously, repeatedly refused to enlist on the grounds that his religious beliefs forbade any killing.
Heavyweight pricetag: A letter written by boxing legend Muhammad Ali is set to sell for £35,000 at auction
It was a stance that would see the young champion arrested, tried and sentenced to five years in jail in 1967.
He was fined $10,000, banned from boxing, stripped of his world title and exiled from the ring for more than three years.
Prior to his arrest, Ali wrote to the US army chiefs on August 23, 1966, in a last-ditch attempt to convince them he could not be made to enrol because he was ‘a minister of religion’.
Ali had initially been called up to serve in 1964 aged 20 but his reading and writing was so poor he failed the qualifying test.
Soon after, however, the entry requirements were revised and Ali was classified as eligible for conscription but he flatly refused because war was against the teachings of Islam.
In his letter Ali urged General Lewis B. Hershey and Colonel Everette S. Stevenson, directors of the conscription programme, to drop the charges against him claiming it was ‘in the national interest’.
Knockout blow: Muhammad Ali fighting Britain’s Brian London in August 6 1966 at Earl’s Court Stadium. The fight was just weeks before Ali wrote the letter saying why he would not serve in Vietnam
Costly correspondence: Ali was fined $10,000 and handed a five-year jail sentence. He was also stripped of his heavyweight title and banned from boxing
Ali wrote: ‘I have filed with the Local Board a written request to reopen my classification based on accompanying written information presenting facts not considered by the Local Board or the Appeal Board when I was classified which will prima facie justify a change in my classification to that of IV-D, exempting me from all training and service as a minister of religion.
‘This petition is made to you in order to avoid injustice and unnecessary litigation in the courts which would be burdensome to both me and the Selective Service System.’
With his letter he submitted 36 pages of ‘documentary proof’ of his claim, stating the appeal was ‘not made for the purpose of delay but in order that justice may be done…’
Ultimately, Ali’s arguments fell on deaf ears and his application to be made exempt was denied.
He was tried, found guilty of draft evasion, sentenced to five years in jail and fined $10,000.
Ali appealed the conviction and spent the next three-and-a-half years talking at universities and Muslim gatherings about his anti-war stance.
In 1970 the Supreme Court found that Ali qualified for conscientious objector status and his conviction was quashed.
Historic: Experts say the six-page letter is the ‘most significant Ali document in existence’
Later that year Ali returned to boxing and in 1974 he gained his second world title, beating George Foreman in infamous Rumble in the Jungle fight.
The signed six-page letter has been described as the most significant document relating to Ali in existence by experts.
It is expected to sell for £35,000 when it goes under the hammer at Heritage Auctions in Dallas, Texas, on behalf of a private collector who bought it in 1997.
Prior to the sale it had been on display in the Muhammad Ali Museum in Louisville, Kentucky.
A spokesman for the Heritage said: ‘It’s often said that time heals all wounds, and while the statement is belied by the physical toll Muhammad Ali continues to pay for a decade and a half in the professional prize ring, perhaps no figure in American history has endured such a thorough transformation from pariah to national icon.
Ready to fight: Muhammad Ali training at the Territorial Army Gymnasium in White City, West London, the same year as the letter was sent to General Lewis B. Hershey and Colonel Everette S. Stevenson
‘While the brash young fighter earned more than his share of detractors for the vocal self-aggrandisement that characterised his rise from 1960 Olympic gold medallist to heavyweight champion of the world in 1964, his refusal to accept Vietnam War conscription added rocket fuel to that fire, inflaming the nationalistic ire of the Red Scare mainstream.
‘At the height of the Cold War and the Civil Rights movement, Muhammad Ali suddenly found himself to be the most reviled American athlete since Jack Johnson.
‘No item in the public realm speaks so directly to that transformative period in the life and career of Muhammad Ali as does the presented six-page letter.
Gloves off: The famous letter cites other cases in order that ‘justice may be done’ and demands Ali is not sent to war
Sign off: The document is signed as both Mohammad Ali and Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr. followed by the title of Special Field Minister, The Lost Found Nation of Islam
‘Ali’s draft status has been reclassified earlier in the year, and his appeal denied, actions that left him eligible for immediate induction.
‘The document survives in pristine condition without so much as a storage fold, the onion skin pages likely the Ali camp’s personal carbon copy with the mailed copy still housed in government archives.
‘As we know, this last attempt for approval of conscientious objector status would fall on deaf ears, and Ali was arrested, found guilty of draft evasion, and stripped of his Heavyweight title, the start of three and a half years of banishment from boxing.
Conscientious objector: The three-times heavyweight champion has been plagued by ill health in recent times. His letter is expected to attract much interest when it goes under the hammer in Dallas later this month
‘On June 28, 1971, the Supreme Court voted unanimously to reverse Ali’s conviction, with this letter serving as the basis for the Court’s decision.
‘Three years later Ali would regain the Heavyweight title with his historic underdog victory over George Foreman in The Rumble in the Jungle, completing his long and arduous climb back to the pinnacle of the sport.
‘This letter is the most significant Ali document in existence.’
The auction will take place on February 21.