CLEVELAND — On Friday, members of the Browns organization as well as local leaders gathered to honor "one of the most important civil rights acts in sports history."
A new Ohio Historical Marker was unveiled outside Cleveland Browns Stadium honoring the famous 1967 "Cleveland Summit," in which nearly a dozen Black sports figures as well as future Cleveland Mayor Carl Stokes gathered to support boxing champion Muhammad Ali's refusal to be drafted into the Vietnam War. While the meeting itself actually took place at the former Negro Industrial & Economic Union building on Euclid Avenue, the marker will become a part of Cleveland's Civil Rights Trail, and recognizes the role several Browns players had in the event.
One of the leading figures of the summit was legendary running back Jim Brown, who had retired from the NFL the year before but remained active in Cleveland. His former Browns teammate and fellow future Hall of Famer Bobby Mitchell was also there, as were then current Cleveland standouts Walter Beach, John Wooten, and Sid Williams (a future U.S. Ambassador to the Bahamas). Others on hand included Kareem Abdul-Jabaar, Bill Russell, and of course, Ali himself.
Beach and Wooten were among those at the stadium for today's ceremony, which came just month's following Brown's death at the age of 87. 3News' Russ Mitchell spoke with Beach this past May about the role Brown played in organizing the summit.
Of the meeting, Brown would tell The New York Times, "We approached [Ali] on the basis that we were his friends, willing to give him any assistance we could. No one would pressure him. It would be a give-and-take, pro-and-con discussion." Though Ali was banned from boxing in the immediate aftermath of his decision, the U.S. Supreme Court eventually upheld his right to not be drafted, and he ended up returning to the ring and regaining his heavyweight title.
The building that housed what would later be called the Black Economic Union is now home to offices of the American Cancer Society. In 2022, Beach was among those who helped dedicate a separate historical marker outside that location.