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John Gennari

As the dominant heavyweight boxer of the 1960s and 1970s, Muhammad Ali won an Olympic gold medal, captured the professional world heavyweight championship on three separate occasions, and successfully defended his title nineteen times. Ali's extroverted, colorful style, both in and out of the ring, heralded a new mode of media-conscious athletic celebrity. Through his bold assertions of black pride, his conversion to the Muslim faith, and his outspoken opposition to the Vietnam War, Ali became a highly controversial figure during the turbulent 1960s. At the height of his fame, Ali was described as “the most recognizable human being on earth.”

Ali's 1981 retirement from boxing did not diminish his status as an international public figure. Despite suffering from Parkinson's disease, Ali remained on the world stage as an adherent of the Nation of Islam an advocate of children and war victims and a proponent of international understanding ...

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Gerald Early

world champion boxer and political activist, was born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. in Louisville, Kentucky, the eldest of two sons raised by Cassius Clay Sr., a sign painter and something of a frustrated artist, and Odessa Grady, a domestic. Young Clay began to take boxing lessons at the age of twelve because someone had stolen his bicycle and he was determined to exact revenge against the perpetrators. He never discovered who stole his bike, but he did blossom as a young fighter, taking instruction from the Louisville policeman Joe Martin. His brother, Rudolph Arnette Clay (Rudolph Valentino Clay in some sources and later Rahaman Ali), also took up boxing, but, lacking his brother's talent, never became a significant presence in the sport.

Clay became a gym rat feeling that he could succeed in boxing as he never could in school Although he showed no special ability in his ...

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Luther Adams

boxer, civil rights activist. Perhaps one of the most recognized people in the world, Muhammad Ali was born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. to Cassius Marcellus Clay Sr. and Odessa (Grady) Clay in Louisville, Kentucky. He was named in honor of his father and the white Kentucky abolitionist Cassius M. Clay. Clay attended the all-black Central High School in Louisville, Kentucky, graduating 376th out of a senior class of 391. Ali has been married four times: to Sonji Roi, Kalilah Tolona (formerly Belinda Boyd), Veronica Porsche, and Yolanda Ali. He has been married to Yolanda since 1986, and has seven daughters and two sons, including Laila Ali, a boxer in her own right.

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Luckett V. Davis

boxer, was born Henry Jackson Jr. near Columbus, Mississippi, the son of Henry Jackson. His mother, whose name is unknown, was a full‐blooded Iroquois, and his father was of mixed Indian, Irish, and black ancestry. He was the eleventh child in a family of sharecroppers. When he was four years old his family moved to St. Louis, Missouri, where his father and older brothers worked in the food‐processing industry. His mother died a few years later, after which he was reared by his paternal grandmother. Jackson graduated from Toussaint L'Ouverture Grammar School and Vashon High School, working during his school years as a pin boy at a bowling alley and becoming the inter‐alley bowling champion in midtown St. Louis. He gained his first boxing experience by winning a competition among the pin boys.

Lacking funds to attend college, Jackson worked at a series of unskilled jobs At the ...

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Boxing  

Although fighting as sport has existed in one form or another for centuries, it was not until the eighteenth century, in England, that bare-knuckle (fighting without gloves) became standardized. The sport quickly traveled to the American colonies, where many of its prime practitioners were African American slaves and ex-slaves. Bouts in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries varied considerably. Often two men or boys were pitted against each other until one of the contestants could no longer stand. Such fights sometimes lasted as long as 100 rounds.

There were also more humiliating matches, known as battles royal, in which half a dozen blindfolded slaves were placed in a ring to flail at one another until one prevailed. A few slave fighters, such as Tom Molineaux and Bill Richmond earned their freedom through boxing or escaped most of the travails of slavery by touring abroad on boxing exhibitions These sorts of ...

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Boxing  

Michael Ezra

Perhaps no sport has influenced African American culture and society more than boxing. Long before the sport was formalized, slaves worked as prizefighters, sometimes gaining their freedom if they earned their masters enough money and prestige through their exploits in the ring. The first American to compete for the world heavyweight championship was Bill Richmond, a black man and former slave, who took on and lost to England's Tom Cribb in 1805. The former slave Tom Molineaux, who gained his emancipation through pugilism, also challenged Cribb for the crown, losing bouts in 1810 and 1811. Long before their official participation in other professional sports, African Americans were making their mark in the prize ring.

Although boxing was the most popular spectator sport in the United States from the late 1840s until the Civil War blacks were excluded from the big money contests that captured the public ...

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Anene Ejikeme

was born Amadou M’barick Fall, but was also known as Louis Fall. Best known as “Battling Siki,” he took the world light heavyweight boxing title in September 1922, becoming the first African ever to win a world boxing championship title. Just three years and three months later, Siki, aged twenty-eight, was found dead, lying facedown in a New York City street, with two gunshot wounds in the back.

Siki was born in Saint Louis one of Senegal s four communes Little is known of Siki s early life but what is certain is that Siki left Senegal for Europe in his youth although it is not known at what age There he took the name Louis although that may already have been one of his names as European names were not uncommon among Africans born in Senegal s communes Louis M barick and Amadou may each or all have ...

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Michael L. Krenn

boxer and businessman, was born George Edward Foreman in Marshall, Texas, the son of J. D. Foreman and Nancy Ree. His father, a railroad employee and a heavy drinker, was absent for much of George's childhood. His mother worked several jobs, including as a waitress, to support George and his six siblings.

As Foreman describes it his childhood was marked by intense want and hunger and an anger that often exploded into fighting Even at a young age he was larger than normal and he used his intimidating size to bully his peers He had little love for school although football in junior high school proved attractive for its violence and aggression Foreman did not last long in high school however By the age of fifteen he was spending most of his time on the streets of Houston where his mother had moved the family when he was ...

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Patrick Stearns

professional boxer, actor, product spokesperson, and minister. George Edward Foreman was born in Marshall, Texas, to J. D. Foreman and Nancy Foreman. By the seventh grade he had dropped out of school, engaging in petty crimes, such as muggings. At age sixteen he enrolled in a Job Corps training program in Oregon. While working at a conservation camp affiliated with the program, Foreman found that he had a talent for boxing, and he won the Corps Diamond Belt Boxing Tournament.

In 1968 Foreman made the U.S. Olympic boxing team and won the gold medal in the Olympic Games in Mexico City. Vietnam War protests, the rise of black nationalism, and episodes of civil unrest in U.S. cities after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination earlier in the year were a sign of the times. The 1968 Olympics in Mexico City were also the scene ...

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Michael L. Krenn

boxer, was born in Newark, New Jersey, the son of Ida Mae Hagler and Robert Sims. Most of his youth, however, was spent in Brockton, Massachusetts, where his mother and father moved with Marvin and his five siblings just a few years after Marvin's birth. Sims left the family when Marvin was a child. Like so many young men who turn to boxing, Hagler had found little to interest him in school. He dropped out during his first year in high school to pursue amateur fighting. The home of the former undefeated heavyweight king Rocky Marciano, Brockton had a history of producing champions. Hagler became acquainted with the Petronelli brothers, Goody, who served as his trainer, and Pat, who became his manager for most of his career.

Just shy of sixty amateur fights to his credit Hagler quickly established himself as one of the best amateur ...

Article

Michael L. Krenn

boxer, was born Thomas Hearns in Memphis, Tennessee. His mother, Lois Hearns, was a boxing promoter in Detroit, but no other information about his immediate family is known.

Hearns began his boxing career with a splendid record as an amateur fighter. With more than 155 fights before turning professional, Hearns suffered just eight losses. In 1977 he won both the Golden Gloves and National AAU championships in the welterweight division. That same year, Hearns, who had moved to Detroit to train in the Kronk Gym, turned professional. During the next two and a half years, Hearns reeled off twenty-eight straight victories. What surprised most boxing observers, however, was the fact that Hearns, generally regarded as more of a boxer than a puncher, knocked out twenty-six of those opponents, often within the first three rounds. Most were journeymen fighters, but he knocked out Harold Weston the former welterweight ...

Article

Steven J. Niven

world boxing champion, was born Arthur John Johnson in Galveston, Texas, the eldest son of Henry Johnson, a janitor and former slave, and Tiny (maiden name unknown). Johnson landed in many-schoolyard fights, usually returning home beaten, bruised, and crying unless his sister came to his defense. Only when his mother, the more dominant of his parents, threatened him with a worse whipping did he begin to fight back. After attending public school for six years, he assisted his invalid father and then drifted from one job to another, working as a horse trainer, a baker, and a dockworker, usually near Galveston, although his autobiography lists more exotic, far-flung locations. That memoir contains serial exaggerations and embellishments, many of which are repeated in the Tony- and Pulitzer Prize–winning stage play (1969) and later movie (1970), The Great White Hope.

Johnson also participated in battle ...

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Jill Dupont

boxer. The distinguished writer Joyce Carol Oates has called him “the most eloquent of all, and, with Archie Moore, the most intelligent.” The literary critic Gerald Early anointed him “the first African American pop culture icon.” Each is speaking of the boxer Jack Johnson, the first African American to win the heavyweight title in boxing. Johnson's reign began in 1908 and ended under a cloud of suspicion in Havana, Cuba, in 1915—within days of the release of The Birth of a Nation, a film that reinvigorated the Ku Klux Klan and ushered in a period of intense racial violence and xenophobic sentiment.

One seldom refers to boxers as eloquent and intelligent nor as pop culture icons Yet each portrait of Johnson rings true Far from fulfilling the kind of unschooled comical and primitive image that dominated most white thinking of African Americans in the early twentieth century ...

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Sholomo B. Levy

boxing promoter, was born Donald King in Cleveland, Ohio, the fifth of seven children of Clarence King, a steelworker, and Hattie King. When Donald was nine years old, his father was killed in an explosion at the steel plant where he worked. His mother baked pies and roasted peanuts to supplement the family's meager income. Donald and his siblings assisted their mother by, among other things, inserting slips of paper with “lucky numbers” into each bag of peanuts like fortune cookies. Thus began his introduction as a minor player in the numbers racket, which operated in many impoverished neighborhoods as a quasi-legitimate part of the underground black economy. After class at Lafayette Elementary School, Donald also delivered live poultry to be slaughtered at Hymie's Chicken Shack.As a student athlete at John Adams High School Donald standing six feet three inches had a brief and unimpressive career ...

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Christopher Caines

actor, bandleader, and boxer, was born Leonard Lionel Cornelius Canegata in New York City, the son of James Cornelius Canegata, a clerk, and Lydia Whaley. Lee's father came from a wealthy and politically prominent family in St. Croix, Virgin Islands, whose ancestors had adopted a Danish surname. Lee's grandfather owned a fleet of merchant ships; the family also raced horses. James Canegata shipped out as a cabin boy at eighteen, settled in Manhattan, married, and worked for National Fuel and Gas for thirty-one years. Lee grew up in the San Juan Hill section of Manhattan's West Sixties and attended P.S. 5 in Harlem. An indifferent student, he devoted more energy to fisticuffs than to schoolwork. Lee studied violin from age seven with the composer J. Rosamond Johnson and at age eleven he was favorably reviewed at a student concert in Aeolian Hall his parents ...

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Jacob Andrew Freedman

boxer, was born Ray Charles Leonard in Wilmington, North Carolina, the fifth of the seven children of Cicero and Getha Leonard. His parents were fans of Ray Charles, and they named their son after the famous musician. His mother hoped that Ray would grow up and pursue a singing career. When Ray was eleven the family moved to Palmer Park, Maryland, and bought their first house. Ray's three older brothers, Roy, Kenny, and Roger, were active in sports and pressured Ray to accompany them to the local gym. Ray was shy and preferred comic books to physical challenges, and when he initially tried sparring, he found it scary. He did, however, begin to develop his athletic abilities at the school gym.In 1970, to keep kids away from crime and drugs, Palmer Park authorities opened a recreation center with the help of ...

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Steven J. Niven

world champion boxer, was born Charles Liston in rural St. Francis County, Arkansas, to the tenant farmers Helen Baskin and Tobe Liston. Like much in Liston's story, the precise date of his birth and the exact number of his siblings are unknown. He was most likely born between 1927 and 1932 and was probably the tenth of eleven children born to Helen Baskin and the twenty fourth of twenty five children born to Tobe Liston His nickname Sonny may have been granted in childhood though most people claimed that it was given to him in prison Liston received no formal schooling From an early age he labored on the tenant farm with his father who believed that if a child was big enough to sit at the dinner table he was big enough to chop cotton Liston rarely spoke of his childhood except to say The only ...

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Michael Ezra

the longest-reigning heavyweight boxing champion in history. Born Joseph Louis Barrow on 13 May 1914 near the rural town of Lafayette, Alabama, in the Buckalew Mountains, Louis was the seventh of eight children born to Munrow and Lillie Reese Barrow. Munrow Barrow, a cotton sharecropper, left the family when Joe was two years old and was never seen by them again, leaving Lillie to work the land and raise the children alone until she married Patrick Brooks, who also sharecropped.

Tiring of scratching a meager living out of the land and enthralled by stories of prosperity and freedom in the North, Brooks moved the family to Detroit in 1926 settling in a black neighborhood on the east side Things were not much better there however as the Great Depression began to slow the nation s economy Brooks was laid off from his city job as a street ...

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Steven J. Niven

world champion boxer, was born Joseph Louis Barrow, the seventh of eight children of Munroe Barrow and Lillie Reese, sharecroppers, in a shack in Chambers County, Alabama. In 1916 his father was committed to the Searcy State Hospital for the Colored Insane, where he would live for the next twenty years. Believing that her husband had died, Lillie later married Pat Brooks and moved with their children in 1926 to Detroit, Michigan, where Brooks found a job at the Ford Motor Plant.Like many rural southerners during the Great Migration, Joe Barrow struggled in the new urban environment Although Alabama had been no racial paradise Michigan seemed little better Nobody ever called me a nigger until I got to Detroit he later recalled Ashe 11 A rural Jim Crow education did not prepare him for the northern public schools and the decision to place the quickly ...

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Thomas W. Collins

boxer, was born Archibald Lee Wright, the son of Thomas Wright, a farm laborer and drifter, and Lorena Wright. He always insisted that he was born in 1916 in Collinsville, Illinois, but his mother told reporters that he was actually born in 1913 in Benoit, Mississippi. His father abandoned the family when Archie was an infant. Unable to provide for him and his older sister, his mother gave them into the care of an uncle and aunt, Cleveland and Willie Pearl Moore, who lived in St. Louis, Missouri. Archie later explained why he was given their surname: “It was less questions to be called Moore.” He attended all-black schools in St. Louis, including Lincoln High School, although he never graduated. His uncle and aunt provided him with a stable upbringing, but after his uncle died in a freak accident around 1928 Moore began running ...