CLEVELAND (WJW) – Celebrating an iconic moment in Cleveland history.
A statue was unveiled, honoring the Cleveland Summit where many of the top Black athletes, during the civil rights movement, including Muhammad Ali, spoke out for social justice.
Honoring the 1967 Cleveland Summit, a replica of the press table was unveiled in front of the American Cancer Society on Euclid Avenue in Cleveland.
Fifty-six years ago, the Negro Industrial Building stood there, where the biggest names in sports, including boxing legend Muhammad Ali, gathered to make a statement about social justice.
“They had taken away his passport and his championship. ‘Call the guys, call the guys… tell them to head for Cleveland, the champ needs our help,'” said former Browns player, 86-year old John Wooten.
Wooten attended the Cleveland Summit.
He is in the iconic photo that include sports greats like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jim Brown, Bill Russell and Carl Stokes, who would become the first Black mayor of a major American city.
The men gathered to voice their support for Ali, who had refused to be drafted in the Vietnam War.
“People would say, well, weren’t you guys concerned about the fact that you all came together? Hey, when you’re doing what’s’ right, how are you going to be concerned about anything, when you know what you’re doing is right?” said Wooten.
“Sports is one of the greatest unifying things that we have, so I do believe that it is our responsibility to continue to push that and use that,” said Cleveland Cavaliers head coach J.B. Bickerstaff.
The ceremony included coaches and executives from all three Cleveland pro sports teams.
“To be able to see, to be around Black excellence,” said Cavs shooting guard Donovan Mitchell.
Mitchell says he was star struck when he saw Wooten and honored him for his courage.
Mitchell says he is inspired by the athletes in the iconic photo, who fought for social justice. The Cavs player says he wants to follow in their footsteps, using his platform as a star athlete to continue their goal.
“I wasn’t a well-off kid growing up, but I was around kids whose parents were well off. Just being able to see there’s differences and trying to find a way to bridge the two Americas together, trying to bridge that gap,” Mitchell said.
“This is just the beginning. Jim would be so proud today, I’m so proud to be here and represent him,” said Monique Brown, wife of legendary Cleveland Browns player Jim Brown, who died earlier this year.
The sculpture, called “A Seat at the Table,” includes 12 microphones, representing the 12 courageous men who sat here.
“When you think about a microphone, it’s a tool that amplifies voices that broadcast messages and that’s exactly what those men that day did, was take their seat, come together and amplify for our community,” said Jason Garrett, co-creator of the sculpture.
The unveiling was held by the Cavaliers, along with several other organizations, including the NBA Social Justice Coalition, the Cleveland Three Team Alliance, the American Cancer Society and the Marcus Graham Project.
CL-3, which includes reps from the Browns, Guardians and Cavaliers, say they will continue the legacy and hold an annual summit on how to advocate for social justice through sports.