Production Team: X
Interview Date: April 30, 1989
Camera Rolls: 2124-2125
Sound Rolls: 258
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with Steven Dunkley, conducted by Blackside, Inc. on April 30, 1989, for Eyes on the Prize II: America at the Racial Crossroads 1965 to 1985. Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
These transcripts contain material that did not appear in the final program. Only text appearing in bold italics was used in the final version of Eyes on the Prize.
Tell me what a normal day was usually like at the Houston Induction Center and what was different about that day when you expected Muhammad Ali to be inducted.
Well a typical day would be the arrival of the--
Sorry, you have to say the typical day at the Houston Induction Center.
A typical day at the Houston Induction Center would be the arrival of the inductees who were going to be inducted in the Army that day or the Navy or the Air force or the Marine Corp. They would arrive and they would be processed through either the testing in the, ah, physical area and also the, ah, psychological area and then they would, ah, depending on their test scores and everything like that, they were qualified then they'd be, the last thing would be induction ceremony into the Armed Forces. Then they would leave on their bus and go to Fort Polk, Louisiana or wherever, whichever, station, they, they had been assigned to.
What was different about the day that Ali was going to come?
Well, the day that Ali came was, ah, supposed to be the same but it turned out to be quite different. It started, ah, ah, earlier in the morning. We usually arrive at 8:00 but we had to be in the building by 6:00 that day. Colonel McKee asked that we all be in that day. There were several factions that were, ah, demonstrating outside the building. There were, ah, the draft card burners, the people, those people, there were the Black Muslims and there were, ma and pa Kettle type people whose sons were already in Vietnam. They wanted to have their say. So you had three factions in front of the building doing what they were, putting forth their beliefs of what they wanted. Then, ah, the inductees arrived and, ah, things were different in that we had, ah, since Muhammad Ali had come, was coming that day, we had to set up a press center because the press had descended on the building. Of course it was an exciting event and, ah, the Department of the Army was watching and also the, ah, you know, the news media and magazines and everybody really wanted to know what was going to happen that day. So they were all put in a press room. And, ah, Muhammad Ali had, ah, gone through his pre-induction physical in Memphis and then had transferred to Houston. So he had been totally qualified for induction. He had passed the physical, the, ah, testing, the mental testing and also the psychological testing. He had passed all of those areas. So, it was basically, he was arriving to go in the service that day. So, he, he arrived. He was very pleasant. Everybody enjoyed working with him. He did exactly as he was asked to do with the group and, ah, first thing he went was to the testing and, and we just reviewed his test scores to make sure that nothing had changed there. Then he went to the, ah, facility where they do the physicals. And basically all they do is just ask him if there's been any change in their physical status from the time that they had their full physical. And of course there was no change there. So, and then they take him to another section which psychological testing that's, if he had joined, like, the communist party or something like that since he had been. Well, he passed all that with flying colors. So then the last part was the induction ceremony. The induction ceremony was held as usual, ah, it was monitored the whole the day. There was a direct hot line to the Pentagon USAREC which, ah, every time he would pass a different step, then, we would, ah, you know, tell the Pentagon where he was in, in the process. Ah, we also, ah, told the, the press in the press room that OK, he had passed the physical part. He had passed this part, etcetera. So, ah, he was put in a room with all the other inductees. The, the, and I was the Induction Officer and that I, ah, call their name and ask them to step forward. That step that they take forward constitutes the induction into the U.S. Army.
That was good. I'm going to break you down now so you can give us little sections.
I'm going to ask you again the first question about what was a normal day. What was different about when Ali came that day. And what I'd like you to include in the answer this time was, there was this direct line to the Pentagon. Just take it up to the point where.
The two different things were the direct line to the Pentagon and the press.
OK let's take both.
There was also the demonstrations up front.
Let's leave off of that for a second. Let's leave that out of this version.
Can you tell me what a normal day was at the Houston Induction Center. What was different about the day when Muhammad Ali was going to come?
The day that Muhammad Ali came was definitely different. There was a direct line set up.
Muhammad Ali came to the Induction Center.
The day that Muhammad Ali came to the Induction Center was different from other days in that there was a direct line set up from the, ah, Armed Forces Examining and Entrance Station in Houston to the Pentagon so that they could monitor his, ah, progression all the way through the, ah, induction ceremony. They, every time he would pass, like the physical section or the psychological section then we would, ah, it was, ah, ah, the line was open the whole day. We would tell them what, what was going on. In addition to that the press room, which had been set up, either, Colonel McKee or one of the people would go in, say, what status that he was in during the day. So that they would know what was going on and then they could, ah, release news releases that he had, ah, passed his physical, now he was moving into psychological testing or whatever, what might be. And then, ah, just before he went to the ceremony we told them that he was going in to do the ceremony and, ah, then after the ceremony he, we also went in and told them that too.
What did you feel that day? How did you feel that day? You must have been pretty excited. What was going on inside of you that day, I mean you got there at 6 o'clock in the morning. What was it like? How did you feel about that day?
Well it was, ah, not the regular, you know, go to work day. It was a, a special day and, ah, it was exciting because of the, ah, the press and also the, ah, the Pentagon looking on, what was going on. We processed everything as usual. We went exactly by the book to make sure that ev- you know all the regulations were taken care of. We did have to take care of the press people and, ah, of course there was some activity outside the building. We had to monitor that, ah, the building was like guarded. And, ah, everybody who went in and out that day was checked very thoroughly where usually it's, ah, you know, quite open. You know, you could come and go as you please. Not that day, things were pretty well nailed down. It was an exciting day. It was, it was one of those special days in your life that, you know, you only have now and then.
Let's cut. I want to try it again. Just take a deep breath. I like what you're giving me. You had told me over the telephone, you had gotten there at 6 a.m. It was a couple of hours earlier than usual. Colonel McKee said that even though Ali was coming, he wanted you to do things exactly by the book the way you had done them every day before. And that would be kind of nice to get into the information plus the whole thing about and we had press thing set up, we had an open line to the Pentagon to monitor all his activities. You don't have to tell me about exactly what he was doing, just say the Pentagon line was open to monitor all his activities.
OK, Steven, can you tell me again about what was different about that day when Ali was going to inducted?
What was different about that day that Ali was going to be inducted in the Houston Center, ah, was that we were asked to be there, ah, two hours early. We had to be in the building by 6 o'clock that morning. That was mainly for our protection. Also because of the, ah, factions that were expected to materialis- materialize outside, which they did. Then also, ah, we had to set up a press room, ah, to give releases on exactly what Muhammad Ali, where he was in the induction process. And also we had a direct line open to the Pentagon where we could give them the, ah, steps that he was going through toward induction.
How did you feel that day? What was the feeling.
Oh, it was a super exciting day.
Start again, I jumped on top of you.
It was a, it was a exciting day, ah, because he was a very or he, you know, was a very famous guy coming up there. There was a lot of controversy. He was being monitored by the Pentagon. The press people were there and of course the factions were, ah, demonstrating and doing their thing outside. So it was not the typical day where you arrive at 8:00 and process the inductees and put them on a bus and go home, you know, it, it wasn't that type day.
What was happening outside the Induction Center? Who was demonstrating? What kind of people were out there demonstrating?
Basically, ah, the building was sealed off so that the, they would have to stay outside. There were, ah, three groups outside. You had the Black Muslim people who were there. They, ah, were very concerned that, you know, he was a minister and what his status was going to be. You had the group of, ah, I, I, ah, you'd have to say draft card burners, ah, those, those type people, hippies, beatnicks, etcetera, like.
Cut. You can say like you said, long haired hippies.
I didn't know if I could say long-hair dope-fiend 'cause that's what we called them in the service. Can I?
OK, Steven, can you tell me, you describe the scene outside the Induction Center the days of Ali's induction.
The days of Ali's induction it was, ah, a special day. We arrived earlier and, ah, there were three factions. We arrived early around 6 o'clock. There were, ah, three factions outside. You had the, ah, Black Muslims, which were concerned with his religious beliefs and that they be respected and everything like that. So they were doing their thing. And you had, ah, the draft card burners, ah, which we refer to as like the long-haired hippie dope-fiends and they were burning flags and draft cards and demonstrating and yelling and everything out there, ah, protesting the war in Vietnam. Then, you had, really kind of the mom and pops, ah, these were, ah, basically, ah, parents of sons that were in Vietnam already and they were there basically, ah, watching and seeing what was going on. And so all three factions were kind of intermixing and you had, they all had their specific territories staked out in front of the Induction Building.
Take me through Ali's day at the Induction Center. What happened when he got there? What was the procedure.
He arrived, ah, with the other--
Muhammad Ali, ah, arrived with the other, ah, pre-inductee people and, ah, he, the first place he was taken into a room with the rest of them. He was given, ah, ah, orientation on what was going to happen that day. And then, ah, the first thing they went up and they, to the places, place where we give the physicals on the fourth floor. He was basically asked if there had been any change in his physical status from the last time that he had gotten his full physical. Cause, see, he was there to, to go in the Army and they were just checking about that period from his, you know, pre-induction physical to where, where he was now. Then he went to psychological testing to check and make sure that he hadn't joined any subversive groups at the time, which were available and operating. Then, also, they reviewed his test scores and everything. And after he completed all that part, ah, then it was time for the in- induction ceremony and, uh. Do you want me to go on induction ceremony?
Yeah, tell me you were the Induction Officer.
I was the Induction Officer, ah, we carried on just like it is always carried on, ah, exactly by the books. There is Army regulations to say exactly how it is to be done. Basically, they are all brought in, lined up in rows, ah, in, in the Induction room. Then, myself as the processing officer, ah, came in and, ah, I tell, would tell them that, ah, the, the induction ceremony consists of two parts. The first part is, we call their name and then they take a step forward and that step forward constitute their induction in the United States Army. Then after that, then they raise their right hand and they're sworn in with the oath, oath of allegiance to the U.S. Army and the country and everything. So, ah, I started down through the group, ah, and, ah, though, it goes alphabetical. When I got down I said, "Muhammad Ali," and he didn't do anything. And so then I said, "Cassius Clay," because we weren't really sure if he had changed his name legally. The Draft Board said that he had changed it and his legal name was Muhammad Ali. But we weren't really sure, ah, so we, we checked to make sure there was no technical problem there. And he, ah, did not step forward. So, at that time, Lieutenant Hartman who was the XO of the, ah, Induction, ah, Center plus, ah, Captain Hall, they took him out and they, into another room, and they advised him of his rights, that it was, ah, a $10,000 fine and five years in the federal penitentiary for refusing induction in the armed forces and asked him if he was clear on this and he said yes he was. So then, in the meantime I had finished the, the ceremony for the rest of them and they had all been, ah, sworn in and they left. And we brought just him back in. There was Lieutenant Hartman, Colonel McKee, myself, doing this ceremony and also Captain Hall, who was the psychologist. And, ah, I again called his name. He did not step forward. And so, ah, we advised him that he had not stepped forward and he, you know, had not taken induction in the Army that day and that he was free to go. Where the rest of them had got on the bus and they were heading to Fort Polk, Louisiana. Then we counseled him that he was free to go and we told him we had set up a press room, which we told him earlier that day, that we had set up a press room. We asked him, did he want to go to the press room and talk to those people or did he want out of the Induction Station by a, a back door where he wouldn't have to worry about any, any problems. And he said he wanted to go to the press room. So then, ah, Colonel McKee went to the press room and told them that, ah, Muhammad Ali would be down there shortly and to, you know, get ready and that he had in fact refused induction in the United States Army.
Good. Let's cut. Very good. That's very good, very good.
--Ali was among them.
As the inductees walked into the room and Muhammad Ali was among them, I had thought about, ah, all the rumors that I had heard, ah, that, ah, he was not going to do it, that he was going to refuse based on that he was a religious purposes, that he was a Black Muslim, ah, minister. So they, they came in. They all lined up and everything. And I called the names and I looked at him when I called Muhammad Ali. And I thought, is he really going to do it? Is he really going to do it? So, I said, Muhammad Ali and I looked at him. And he just stood there and then I said, "Cassius Clay," and he just stood there. And, so then, at that time I, I decided, "Well, he's serious about this. He's going to do it." So, at that time, ah, Lieutenant Hartman and Captain Hall, you know, took him from the room. I went ahead and finished the ceremony for the rest of them. The other inductees that were, were doing it were intrigued by the fact that, you know, they had, ah, taken the step forward and said, yes sir. Is what they do, they take a step forward, yes sir. And then that meant that they were in, you know, and, and they were all also wondering, what, what was going to happen that day too.
Before we started rolling, you said, "It's always that moment where a person could have just said I was going to do it."
Yes, ah, when it got down to that actual moment where it was just, me calling his name, saying Muhammad Ali, I think, you know, I thought is he or is he not going to do it, you know, it was just, there was that moment of indecision. He could have stepped forward and the whole thing would have been, you know, totally different. Everything would have turned out different. But, ah, he had, evidently, he had already made his decision. But I didn't know it until I actually called his name and looked him in the eye whether or not he was going to do it.
What happened after you called his name?
After I called his name and, ah, I said, "Muhammad Ali," he did not step forward. Then I said, "Cassius Clay," he did not step forward. Then, ah, Captain Hall and Lieutenant Hartman, ah, took him from the room to the, ah, an adjacent room and advised him of his rights. I went on and finished the rest of them because I was down to M's, Muhammad Ali, it was in alphabetical order. I finished that and then I swore in, ah, the other guys that were in the group. And then they were taken out to, ah, be held so that they could go on the bus to Fort Polk, Louisiana that night. Then we brought, ah, ah, Muhammad Ali back in the room and I went through the whole thing again and, ah, called his name and gave him a second chance. He did not step forward. Called Cassius Clay and he did not step forward. So then I knew he was serious. So then we counseled him that he was free to go and that a press room had been set up and that we had been telling the press what was going on through the whole time and we'd also been telling the Pentagon what was going on at the, all the time during this. And we asked him at that time, did he want to go to the press room and, and talk to the reporters and do whatever he wanted to do there or did he want to be let out by a back door of the Induction Center where he could leave without having problems. And he elected to go to the press room.
I'm going to ask you this question again about how you felt that day--
Steve, tell me how you felt that day, the day that Ali was expected be inducted.
Well, the d- the way I felt the day that Muhammad Ali was coming up was that it was definitely going to be a different day at ah, work that day. We were asked to be there early at six o'clock in the morning ah, to avoid any problems with the people we were expecting to demonstrate out front. So we were all in. We fortified the, ah, the induction center and monitored who came in and out. We knew that the whole thing was going to be monitored, ah, from the Pentagon on a direct phone line the whole day, all of his activities. We were b- a lot of the, the, ah, guys who worked at the center were fans of Muhammad Ali. You know, he was the heavyweight champion of the world and he was coming that day. And it's not every day you get somebody like that come through the induction center so we were excited about that. We knew that, ah, the press.
Steven, what was Colonel McKee's instructions to you men the day the day at the induction center?
Well we had to--the instructions from Colonel McKee--the day of the induction were that we had to arrive there at 6:00 and shortly thereafter we had a meeting that outlined the plans for the day. We were told that we had to do everything exactly by the book. We reviewed the documentation from the Department of the Army exactly how things are to be done and we made sure that everything was exactly by the book that day: no deviation what so ever. Because we knew that we were definitely going to be monitored by the department of the army, the pentagon, and also the press, so we didn't want any slip ups that day.
Slip ups? Why?
Well because there were so many people watching we wanted exactly by the book, that there wouldn't be any technicalities, that were wrong that we had done something wrong, as far as the induction ceremony or the processing or whatever, so we went exactly by the regulations set down by the selective service system and by the army.
Because Muhammad Ali was going to be inducted that day.
Because Muhammad Ali was going to be inducted.
If you can just say, we were doing everything exactly by the book because.
That particular day we were making sure that we did everything exactly by the book because Muhammad Ali was going to be inducted that day. We wanted to make sure that everything went exactly by the book and very smoothly, mainly because we had a lot of people watching. We had the press watching. We had the, the, ah, direct line to the Department of the Army and to the Pentagon so, ah, we wanted to make sure everything went correctly that day.
Great. Cut. That is it. I asked you how it was, how was the normal day at the and you said the induction was different about the day when Ali--
I don't want to give any opinions on it.
--in terms you're thinking he should of went in the service?
Well, yeah, I do, I think that he should have gone in. Now, he, he's got his, he had his religious beliefs. Don't roll this. But, I don't, I, I think his, his lawyers and, and, and these Black Muslims, I don't really, I'm not convinced today that he really believed. I'm really not convinced. I think that the lawyers and the people used it, to, to, get out of that. And I think that if he had gone in, gosh, Elvis Presley made two movies while he was in there. You know.
Why don't you give me that, Elvis Presley. If he went to boot camp he wouldn't have saw any service in Vietnam.
See but I can't, I can speak for me as a, as a person what I think. But I can't say what the Department of the Army would have, would have done with him. But I know that, how those people are handled, you know. Presley, Presley, you know, went to Germany. And, and, ah, he was in 22 months during the, the time when he was on his month leave, you know, he, he made a movie. And then on his last one he went over there to Hawaii and made another movie, you know, on his way back. And, and, so I, I don't think he saw a lot of gun fire. I don't think Pres- he, he wasn't in Vietnam or anything like that. I think Elvis Presley would have, I mean, ah, Muhammad Ali would have been in special forces and I think that he would have ended up being like the coach of the boxing team or something like that. They would have run him through boot camp and, and done all that. But he would have gotten a, a Germany assignment or something like that. They wouldn't send him to Vietnam or something like that.
As Ali walked out of the Induction Center Steven, what were your thoughts about what he had done, in terms of refusing induction, and if he had not refused induction, what did you think?
Well, as he walked out of the Center, ah, I, I was saddened because I--
Muhammad Ali, as Muhammad Ali walked out of the Center my thoughts were that, ah, he had done the wrong thing. I felt that if he would have taken induction, ah, they would have, ah, put him in special services. He probably would have ended up like coaching the boxing team or something like that. Or, like Elvis Presley was, ah, assigned to a special unit in Germany or something like that. I believe, I'm not positive, but I think Elvis Presley made two movies while he was in the service and so I think Muhammad Ali probably a couple of fights would have been arranged and also, ah, he wouldn't have been stripped of his title as heavy weight champion of the world. So, I felt he that he should have taken induction and he should have served his country and he should have, ah, that he would have been treated fairly by the U.S. Army, I really do. I think he made a mistake.
I think I want to ask you just one more question. I want you to take me again through Ali's day at the Induction Center, beginning when he arrived. That he took his physical, that he went to the psychological section to review his test scores. Fill out the DZ214. Just take through that again up to record to the room where you induct him.
OK, Steven, take me through Ali's day in the Induction Center beginning with when he arrived and where did he go and what was happening.
Muhammad Ali arrived that day, ah, with all the other people that were set for induction that day. First place they went is to the, ah, physical section, which was upstairs. They went up there to check and see, they had been given previously a full physical and so from the time that the physical was to the, to today, the day that they were going to be inducted in the Army, we had to ascertain if there be any changes in their physical status. There hadn't been any change in his. The next thing was the, ah, psychological testing section. He went in there and Captain Hall, ah, checked, we had a DZ form 214, I believe, which was basically, have you joined any subversive organizations or anything. And he hadn't, you know, joined the Communist Party or anything since he had been checked on that before. And then the third thing that, where he went, his test scores were reviewed to make sure that he was, ah, qualified intellectually to, ah, serve in the Armed Forces. And he had passed the tests before so he was qualified and there was no change, you know, in his status there. So, therefore, passing all three of those categories then he was ready for the induction ceremony.
What happened when they did the actual induction? Give me that story again.
The actual induction, ah--
What happened at the actual induction ceremony was that, ah, Muhammad Ali and the people who were to be inducted that day, ah, came in. We had this induction ceremony room, had like a podium in it. They were lined up in front of the podium and then, ah, ah, I came in and got, stood up on the podium and basically told them that they were there for induction in the Armed Forces of the United States. I explained to them that as I called their name, they would take a step forward and that step forward would constitute their induction in the U.S. Army. OK, so then I started down, ah, through the list, starting with the A's, you know, Army always starts at the A's and ends with the Z's. So I started with the A's and when I got down to the M's, Muhammad Ali, I said, "Muhammad Ali," I looked him in the eye, wondering if he was going to do it and he didn't do anything. Then I called Cassius Clay and, ah, he didn't do anything. Because we wanted to make sure that the name was correct that we were calling**. At that time Captain Hall and Lieutenant Hartman took him from the room to advise him of his rights. I, ah, continued on with the ceremony and, ah, the rest of the gentlemen in the room took the step forward, became, ah, part of the U.S. Army. Then I did the, raise the right hand and swore, and swore them into the United States Army and then they left. Then we brought Muhammad Ali back in after he had been advised of rights, ah, and then, ah, called his name again. I looked him in the eye again and said, "Muhammad Ali," and he stood there. And then I said, "Cassius Clay," and he stood there. And then we told him that we, he was free to go, that he had in fact refused induction in the United States Army and he was free to go. At that time we asked him, ah, if he wanted to go to the press room and talk to the press because we had a large room full of people that, movie cameras and, and newspaper people that wanted to talk to him and, and get his thoughts and his feelings and why he had done what he had just done. Or if he wanted to quietly leave by a back entrance that we had. And he said that he wanted to go to the press room and, ah, talk to the press people. He had a prepared, ah, press release that was typed out that he had been carrying through all the, the processing, ah, and he, ah, took it out of his briefcase and gave it out to all the, the people in the press room and, ah, which basically, ah, gave his reasons for refusing induction. That he was, ah, a Muslim minister and therefore was not, ah, was exempt from serving in the United States Army or the Armed Forces of the United States.
Great. Cut. That was very good. Thank you.