On a Sunday afternoon in early June 1967, several hundred Clevelanders crowded outside the offices of the Negro Industrial Economic union in lower University Circle. None of those gathered, including a collection of the top black athletes of that time, realized the significance of what would happen in that building on this day.
Muhammad Ali, the most polarizing figure in the country, was inside being grilled by the likes of Bill Russell, Jim Brown and Lew Alcindor, who would later change his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. They weren't interested in whether Ali was going to take his talents to South Beach or any other sports labor issues.
They wanted to know just how strong Ali stood behind his convictions as a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War. The questions flew fast and furious. Ali's answers would determine whether Brown and the other athletes would throw their support behind the heavyweight champion, who would have his title stripped from him later in the month for his refusal to enter the military.
On June 4, 1967 at 105-15 Euclid Ave. in Cleveland, a watershed moment occurred in the annals of both the civil rights movement and the protest against the Vietnam War. Every cultural force convulsing the nation came together – race, religion, politics, young vs. old, peace vs. war. This is the story about how such an extraordinary meeting developed. How it transpired in Cleveland. And of what that meeting means now, looking back through the lens of nearly 50 years.