Parks X Ali:

Black Athletes, the Media, and “the Champ” in the 1960s

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In 1966, Life magazine assigned famed photographer Gordon Parks to cover Muhammad Ali, the brash young boxing champion. Four years later in 1970, the two came together again for a second Life feature story.  


These encounters framed a critical passage in the career of the controversial heavyweight, whose antiwar and black separatist views had led to widespread vilification in the United States. Parks’s photographs capture this important early chapter in the life of the fighter we still call “the greatest of all time” as he confronted his challenges, inside and outside the ring. They also marked a significant moment of transition for Parks, then following up his remarkable success in photojournalism with new projects as an author, filmmaker and composer.  


Despite their generational and ideological differences, Parks and Ali respected and admired one another. As celebrated figures, both men shared a common struggle as they faced prejudice and bigotry in their fight for social justice and civil rights in the public eye.  


Organized in collaboration with The Gordon Parks Foundation, this exhibition features approximately 55 photographs, many never before published.  In Kansas City, the exhibition is supported by the Hall Family Foundation and Elizabeth and James E.C. Tinsman.


The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art looks forward to welcoming you back to view Gordon Parks X Muhammad Ali: The Image of a Champion, 1966-1970, once we reopen! Until then, please enjoy the following exhibition related activities: 


Gordon Parks X Muhammad Ali: The Image of a Champion, 1966-1970/ Promo


What did Muhammad Ali symbolize during his early, controversial career?

How did the mass media attempt to shape his public image, and how has this legacy informed the actions of contemporary black athletes?  


Join Curator April M. Watson for a lively conversation with Damion Thomas, Curator of Sports at the National Museum of African American History, and William Rhoden, former New York Times sports columnist and author, as they discuss these fascinating topics.  


(This recorded event was held in conjunction with the Gordon Parks X Muhammad Ali: The Image of a Champion, 1966 | 1970 photography exhibition at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. The video content has been made available for informal and educational purposes only.)