Here’s the single most famous photo of Muhammad Ali, as he casts off the oppressive shackles of traditional white sportsmanship and dares to screech abuse at the fallen body of Sheriff Bull Connor. This picture is universally beloved for marking the moment in 1965 of Black Liberation when blacks freed themselves finally to stand up to The Man. No more of the racially humiliating Joe Louis-style gentlemanliness. Chest-thumping, trash-talking black masculinity is unchained!
Except … you know … that’s not precisely Sheriff Bull Connor on the canvas being screamed at by Ali, that’s another black man, Sonny Liston.
In fact, this photo works subversively well as a metaphor for a revisionist history of the what really happened over the last half century: Black Liberation was egged on by the press boys in the front row because it was so mediagenic, but, like most whites, they largely moved their families to the suburbs to get away from it, and left blacks alone to do massive violence to each other in the name of keeping it real.
From today’s New York Times:
Three days, 64 people shot, six of them dead: Memorial Day on the streets, and the violence that has engulfed families and neighborhoods.
… From Friday evening to the end of Monday, 64 people will have been shot in this city of 2.7 million, six of them fatally. In a population made up of nearly equal numbers of whites, blacks and Hispanics, 52 of the shooting victims are black, 11 Hispanic and one white.