Muhammad Ali In Fat City History
Muhammad Ali In Fat City History
By: Jorge Martinez
Recent events have exposed fissures in our union and rocked our national identity. It is in this venue that I share the following story of two “Fat City” residents and Muhammad Ali. One is Mayor, Joan Darrah, the other is Ralph Lee White, a man she called, the most hated man in Stockton. Although not true, White is undoubtedly a controversial, outspoken and adversarial figure. Some might say he got rich by promoting unhealthy habits in the population. He has nevertheless played a pivotal role in the shaping of Stockton’s reputation. Ask the hundreds of people that line south Stockton streets to celebrate the end of slavery, a parade he funds without city support. This is also an unknown chapter in the life of Mohammad Ali, once known as “The Most Hated Man in America”. White was a civil rights advocate who served as a city councilman from 1971-87. Ralph’s challenges to the status quo embarrassed the Mayor. After self-described personal affronts Joan Darrah, stripped White of power by changing the city charter, specifically to prevent him from running for office. The sheer un-American-ness of this is stunning and remains a black mark on her legacy. The manipulation of the law is explained in her book that identifie as done for the greater good. See complete story in Boxing Heroes, 2016, Amazon.com
We must revisit another time of great uncertainty, the Vietnam War. Many rebelled against the draft and American foreign policies. One of these was Muhammad Ali, who inspired many young amateur boxers like myself. Suffering under the whip of Jim Crowe in the southwest, I dreamed of Olympic gold and a world title. I fought with an unrelenting desperate need to succeed, prepared to bleed and die if necessary. I was reaching for the stars that although shined brightly, were just beyond my reach. Without means of getting an education, I enlisted in the Army in 1971, and prepared for war in Vietnam against a people who as Ali said, “ I an’t got no fight with no Vietcong”. The gym was my church and boxing my religion. It saved me by releasing the fury that might have exploded destructively. As history records, Ali refused to serve and was arrested, held for a period, released and stripped of his title. Ali’s refusal sparked the country’s ire and he became “the most hated man in America”. The Viet Nam war ripped the country apart and intensified the divide that still affects our nation. The war eventually ended and a small measure of healing was obtained, meanwhile life in Stockton continued as usual.
Unimpressive in social improvements or economic growth, Joan Darrah’s tenure included the killing of Mr. Ramirez, victim of a mistaken SWAT invasion of his home. It also included The Cleveland Elementary School massacre in January of 1989 that rocked the nation. This was one of many school shootings to come and 28 years latter it’s still under investigation. The culprit was Patrick Edward Purdy a 26-year-old racist with a criminal record that used an AK-47 to kill five children and wound 31 others. It was the worse massacre of children in history before the 12-14-12 shooting at Sandy Hook School in Newtown Connecticut. Many questions remain as some believe Purdy had accomplishes. Interviews with a teacher at the event suggest there may have been another person who was not identified. Attempts to gain information via the Freedom of Information act were denied by the attorney general. My amateur sleuth research suggests Patrick Edward Purdy may have been a serial killer responsible for other murders across the country. This has been denied nor verified.
In her book, Darrah Joan Getting Political, QuillDriver Books 2003, 27, refers to Ralph as “ the star performer, clown, high flyer, and lion tamer in one, at the Monday Night Circus. (City council meetings) The story of White’s gradual transformation from respected and energetic young activist to a man many Stocktoinans saw as corrupt and self serving, unfolded over two decades from roughly 1966 to 1986 “. The pot calling the kettle black, Darrah conveniently forgot the rich typically use wealth to influence politics, like her husband Jim Darrah, a local judge. Without wealth or prestige Ralph Lee White, known as the most hated man in Stockton, recruited Mohammad Ali, the most hated man in America, to assist in a fundraiser. Something no one thought he could do. Although the mayor did not support the White-Ali Match at the University of the Pacific, nine hundred other people did. The event was an overwhelming success and raised thousands of dollars. An excited audience watched as Ali allowed Ralph Lee White to show off and kind enough to feign a knock down, on July 1, 1982. To his credit, Ali never rebutted Ralph’s claims of a real knock down. To my amazement Ralph still claimed it was real in 2016. Today, I am saying his retelling of the event is comical, amusing and intended as innocent humor. The fundraiser made Fat City Boxing history.
Surprising little has been said about Ali’s time in Stockton or this historical event. I accidently learned of it years later. The Mayor referred to it as a “staged fight”, not a public service. Her last attempt at regaining the spot light faded away with her cloudy legacy.
Mohammad Ali is gone and although Ralph Lee White has slowed down with age, yet continues, who knows what chapters remain unwritten. Like Ali, Ralph is full of life and surprises. He has rebuked several mayors including, Ed Chavez, Ann Johnston and current Mayor Michael Tubbs 2017. In retrospect, fundraisers have come and gone, but no one has matched White’s achievement of having Mohammad Ali come to Fat City. The infamous book Fat City, 1969 by Leonard Gardner, described Stockton as hopeless. Gardner unpardonably made the main antagonist white, which can only be interpreted as catering to his readership. It certainly has nothing to do with reality. White fighters in Stockton are a myth. There has not been a serious white contender from Fat City in my 30 years as a boxing journalist.
In 2016, famous, but never a champion Yaqui Lopez convinced the Spinks Brothers to visit Fat City to raise funds for his boxing program. Michael Spinks knocked out Yaqui Lopez in seven rounds in 1980. The event was mildly successful. Thanks to the gods of violent sports that give birth to a new crop of warriors, Fat City has never lacked for brawlers. Today, we have Nate and Nick Diaz, world-class UFC fighters. There are several up and coming boxers such Gabriel Flores, an international golden glove champion. Gabriel will make his professional debut on May 5, 2017 in Reno Nevada. I will cover the event live from ringside and bring details to Fat City. My ringside commendation will be made available to local radio stations throughout the central valley at no charge. I yearn for the days when average Americans knew the names of young lions that made history with their fists. The poorest of Fat City know what movie hero Rocky Balboa said, (paraphrase)” The world isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean nasty place. Life isn’t about getting hit, its about how hard you can get hit, then get up and keep going forward, but you gotta be willing to take the hits.” I dream of a new TV reality series, like The Contender to help us along. As a former boxer, referee, amateur coach, professional trainer, promoter, sportswriter and finally author of Boxing Heroes, 2016. I got to say; Thank God for Boxing!
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