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This oral history project, recorded on high definition video for a general public audience examines the dramatic history, socio-economic impact, political influence and cultural meaning of Muhammad Ali’s struggle to gain conscientious objector status and a ministerial exemption from participating in warfare on the history of civil rights and social protest in Houston, Texas.

In addition to these critical humanistic concerns, the oral histories will consider how Ali’s actions influenced the meanings and significance of free speech and economic self-determination among athletes participating in Houston’s collegiate and major professional sports programs, emerging as it did against the backdrop of what became known as the Black Power Movement.   By exploring the content and proliferation of contemporary protests to the censorship of speech on social media platforms in professional sports, this project will provide critical insight into Ali’s influence on raising an original aesthetic commentary on sport and justice in American life and culture.

Malachi D. Crawford, Project Director

Malachi D. Crawford is assistant director and adjunct professor of African American Studies at the University of Houston. At its core, his research employs the use of critical race theories and historical analysis to examine the legal, religious, intellectual and literary attempts by African-descended peoples to shape the cultural foundations of civil law and human rights in the Western Hemisphere. By way of example, his dissertation identified the strategic initiatives of the Nation of Islam to defend and advance the religious freedoms of its members from 1930 to 1971. This study examined the NOI’s quest for civil rights as a direct and inaugural challenge to the suppression of African American religious freedom as a matter of law. Moreover, after positively reviewing several chapters of his revised dissertation, the series editor of the Critical Africana Studies Series at Lexington Books, an imprint of the Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc., has contracted the manuscript for publication.

Linda Davis, Project Designer

Linda Davis is Director of Educational Technology for the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences (CLASS) at the University of Houston. With a doctorate in Instructional Technology and Distance Education, she develops and implements innovative models for delivery of instruction via technology-enhanced teaching and learning environments. She also supports the college’s website, including HTML documents, creating graphics, digitizing pictures, and inserting audio and video to enhance the website. She will design, plan, and administer the oral history project on the CLASS website.

Andy Chan, Web Developer

Andy's interests lie in creating graphic and video content. Graduated from the University of Houston with Media Production degree, he is skilled in web design, graphic design and video editing. He loves creative ideas that make learning fun and effective.

Andy is obtaining a master degree in Instructional Design at UH. He believes that these skills will allow him to make a contribution to education.

Dana M. Maule

The University of Houston graduate, Dana Michelle is the Senior photographer and owner of D. MICHELLE PHOTOGRAPHY. She provides photography and videography services to the greater Houston area as well as producing and writing short films. In 2014 she directed her 1st documentary film, BLACKLOCK. BLACKLOCK was considered in the 2014 Student Filmmaker Award film festival, as well as the 2014 Directors Guild of America Film Festival for Minorities and Women.


Adrienne Cain, African American Library at the Gregory School

Adrienne Cain is the oral history librarian at the African American Library at the Gregory School.

Billy Glasco, African American Library at the Gregory School

Billy Glasco is the archivist at the African American Library at the Gregory School.


James L. Conyers, Jr., Humanities Advisor

James L. Conyers, Jr., is Director of the African American Studies Program, Director of the Center for African American Culture and University Professor of African American Studies at the University of Houston. He is the author or editor of thirty-five books; and currently serves on the editorial boards of, The Western Journal of Black Studies and The International Journal of Africana Studies. Additionally, Dr. Conyers serves as an external referee to the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, and the Ethnic Studies Review. Dr. Conyers is the founding editor of the newest serial in the field of African American Studies titled, Africana Studies: A Review of Social Science Research. In addition, he is the founding senior editor of the monograph series titled, The African American Experience in the West at the University of Colorado Press. His current publication edited work is, Charles Hamilton Houston: An Interdisciplinary Study of Civil Rights Leadership.

Crystal Edwards, Humanities Advisor

Crystal Edwards is a doctoral candidate in Africology and Urban Education at the University Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Additionally, she is pursuing a graduate certificate in Educational Policy. In addition to serving as both a graduate instructor and teaching assistant, Ms. Edwards has also received the distinguished Chancellor’s Graduate Student Award consecutively for the past three years. Ms. Edwards serves as an officer for the Department’s student organization Africology NOW; which has allowed for her to serve as a member/student liaison of the campus-wide Black History Month committee for the past two years. Crystal Edwards’ research interests include the application of decolonial theory to the formulation of liberatory education, and the critical examination of race, religion and gender in urban spaces.

Abul Pitre, Humanities Advisor

Abul Pitre is professor and department head of Educational Leadership and Counseling at Prairie View A&M University. His research areas are critical race theory, critical education theory and education in African American Studies. He was formerly chair of Leadership Studies in the College of Education at North Carolina A&T State University, and the Carter G. Woodson professor of education at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania.

The core features of this project took shape after a community workshop on the ethics and craft of oral history at the African American Library at the Gregory School (Houston, TX) in December 2013.  Through the generous support of a Humanities Texas Mini-Grant, the African American Studies program at the University of Houston hosted Dr. Michael Frisch, professor and senior research scholar of history and American Studies at the University at Buffalo, SUNY.  Dr. Frisch’s lecture on the craft of oral history, ethics of oral historians, and the innovative use of new ways to access and disseminate oral history as a digital resource highlighted the preeminence of oral history as a primary means of getting local communities to engage and understand the past in meaningful ways.

Notwithstanding these insights, a far more practical explanation underlies the research initiative behind One False Step.  At the moment, no comprehensive body of primary source material chronicling the influence of Muhammad Ali’s struggle for social justice on Houstonians’ perceptions of the Vietnam War, civil rights, military service or religion exists at the African American Library at the Gregory School, the Houston Public Library’s expressly designated repository and resource “to preserve, promote, and celebrate the rich history and culture of African Americans in Houston, the region and the Diaspora.”  The insights gleamed from the workshop presented a unique framework to approach the exceptional legal, social and political history surrounding the development of civil rights history in Houston, Texas, during the 1960s.