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Gerald Early

Despite the considerable achievements of such important African American athletes as Jesse Owens, Joe Louis, Wilma Rudolph, Jim Brown, and Jackie Robinson, the young brash prizefighter from Louisville, Kentucky, may very well have eclipsed their significance. He surely eclipsed their fame as, at the height of his career in the early and middle 1970s, Muhammad Ali was, without question, the most famous African American in history and among the five most recognized faces on the planet.

Born Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr., in 1942 (named after both his father and the famous Kentucky abolitionist), the gregarious, handsome, and extraordinarily gifted boxer garnered world attention by winning a gold medal in the 1960 Olympics. He further stunned the sports world by beating the heavily favored Sonny Liston to win the heavyweight title in 1964 and shocked white America by announcing right after that fight that ...

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David K. Wiggins

Born as Cassius Clay in Louisville, Kentucky, Muhammad Ali first gained international attention when he won the gold medal in the light heavyweight division at the 1960 Rome Olympics. In 1964 he captured the heavyweight championship for the first time in a surprising sixth-round technical knockout of Sonny Liston. Shortly after that fight, Ali announced that he had joined the Nation of Islam (Black Muslims), the black separatist religious group led by Elijah Muhammad. Ali's religious conversion provoked much controversy in America, especially among whites who abhorred his membership in a group that spoke of “white devils” and the superiority of the black race. He further infuriated many Americans when he refused induction into the armed forces in 1967, during the Vietnam War, on religious grounds. His stand resulted in the revoking of his heavyweight crown and conviction for draft evasion. In 1970 the U S Supreme ...

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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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McKay Jenkins

tennis player, author, and political activist, was born Arthur Robert Ashe Jr. in Richmond, Virginia, the son of Arthur Ashe Sr., a police officer, and Mattie Cunningham. Tall and slim as a young boy, Ashe was forbidden by his father to play football; he took up tennis instead on the segregated playground courts at Brookfield Park, near his home. By the time he was ten years old he came under the tutelage of a local tennis fan and physician from Lynchburg, R. Walter Johnson. Johnson had previously nurtured the talents of Althea Gibson, who became the first African American to win Wimbledon, in 1957 and 1958, and his second protégé would prove no less successful. Johnson was an exacting coach he had his charges practice hitting tennis balls with broom handles to develop their hand eye coordination But his lessons extended beyond tennis he also ...

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Michelle S. Hite

tennis player, activist, broadcast journalist, and humanitarian. Born in Richmond, Virginia, Arthur Robert Ashe Jr. was the son of Arthur and Mattie Ashe. Arthur experienced a traumatic loss at age six when his mother died suddenly. He turned inward and toward books and learning. An excellent student, he graduated first in his high school class. Given his appetite for books, success as a student was likely; however, given his physical stature, his success as a tennis player was a surprise. Though physically small, the skills he honed on the public recreational courts, maintained by his father, helped mold him into a top player.

Coming of age in segregated Richmond Virginia shaped Ashe s early tennis experiences and informed his political consciousness He was not allowed to compete on the city s best courts or in the city s top tournaments To improve his game he ...

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Alonford James Robinson

Arthur Ashe was born July 10, 1943, in Richmond, Virginia, to Mattie and Arthur Robert Ashe Sr. He began playing Tennis at the age of ten under the guidance of Dr. Walter Johnson, a prominent coach of African American youth from Lynchburg, Virginia. With Johnson's coaching, Ashe won three American Tennis Association (ATA) boy's championships, becoming the first African American junior to be ranked by the United States Lawn Tennis Association (USLTA).

Between 1960 and 1963 Ashe won three ATA men's singles titles, became the first African American on the U.S. Junior Davis Cup team, and the first African American to win a USLTA national title in the South. His achievements earned him a full scholarship to the University of California at Los Angeles, where he attended from 1961 to 1966 earning a bachelor s degree in business administration While in college Ashe won the U ...

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Richard Sobel

track-and-field athlete, motivational speaker, and activist for youth, was born Robert Alfred Beamon in Jamaica, New York, to Naomi Brown Beamon and a father he never met. After his mother died from tuberculosis before Beamon's first birthday, his stepfather, James, assumed parental responsibility for Robert and his older, disabled brother Andrew. Robert's grandmother, Bessie Beamon, ultimately took over their care as a result of James's inadequate parenting skills. Rarely supervised, Beamon ran away from home when he was fourteen and joined a gang. When he struck a teacher who had attempted to break up one of Beamon's fights, he was expelled and charged with assault and battery.

Beamon's life might have become a tragedy if it weren't for a judge who was “thoughtful, compassionate, and obviously interested in helping kids” (Second Chances 3 The judge took a chance and allowed Beamon to attend an alternative school in ...

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Boyd Childress

football player and labor activist, was born in Trenton, New Jersey, the first of nine children born to Jesse and Henrietta Bethea. Bethea grew up poor, with his father finding whatever jobs he could while his mother worked out of the home as a hairdresser. His father, who enforced a strict home environment, did not think much of football as he struggled in a low-paying factory job, but he did leave Elvin his blue-collar work ethic—a trait the son applied to his own life, especially in football. Bethea excelled in football at Trenton Central High School and was offered a football scholarship at North Carolina Agricultural & Technical University in Greensboro, where he made All-America as a two way lineman. At North Carolina A & T, Bethea played under the assistant coach Hornsby Howell who pushed him to succeed not only in sports but also in life ...

Article

Boyd Childress

professional basketball player and humanitarian activist, was born in Gogrial, Sudan. Born to Madut and Okwok Bol, his father was a herder in the Sudan. Legend has it that Bol, who shared this task, once killed a lion with a spear while tending the family's cattle. Members of the Dinka tribe, noteworthy for their height, Bol's parents were tall—his mother was 6 feet 10 inches. Bol grew to an extraordinary 7 feet 7 inches. When he was a teenager with such height, a cousin suggested he take up basketball. Playing for a team in the larger city of Wau and later in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum, Bol was discovered by Don Feeley, a coach from Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey. He came to the United States in 1983 and although he weighed only 180 pounds and lacked athleticism Bol was drafted by the then ...

Article

Jeremy Rich

basketball player, was born on 16 October 1962 near Gogrial, South Sudan, at that time part of the Republic of Sudan. His family belonged to the Dinka ethnic community, of which his father, Madut Bol, was a local chief. Okwok Bol was his mother. Like many of his siblings, Bol grew up raising cattle for his family. Even though his parents were both well over six feet tall, Bol's height was impressive. By eighteen, he had reached 7 feet 7 inches. He first played soccer, the national sport in Sudan, but his height was such a disadvantage that he gave up the sport. In 1979 Bol began to play basketball This late start explains the limitations of his later career However the towering Bol soon proved himself to be a master at shot blocking and interior defense He moved to the Sudanese capital of Khartoum and played ...

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Adam R. Hornbuckle

track and field athlete, Olympic decathlon champion, professional football player, community organizer, and motivational speaker, was born on 9 December 1933, in Plainfield, New Jersey. Milton Gray Campbell was the second of three children of Thomas and Edith Campbell. His father worked as a taxi cab driver and his mother as a domestic. At Plainfield High School Campbell excelled in football, track and field, and swimming. In his junior year he competed in the 100 meters and the 110-meter high hurdles at the 1952 United States Olympic Trials finishing sixth in the second semifinal heat of the 100 meters and fifth in the finals of the 110 meter high hurdles Later that summer Campbell competed in the Amateur Athletic Union AAU Decathlon National Championships which also served as the Olympic Trials for the two day ten event contest In his first attempt at ...

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CanadianFootball League player, coach, sports executive, and philanthropist, was born Michael Lutrell Clemons in Dunedin, Florida, to Anna O'Neal and Willy James Clemons. The diminutive Clemons earned his nickname in the CFL because, according to Bill O'Billovich, the Toronto Argonauts' head coach, he resembled a pinball when bouncing off of would-be tacklers. His parents never married; Anna raised Michael, while Willy stayed largely at the periphery of his son's life. Later, Anna married and gave birth to Kelli, while her new husband added two children of his own to the family.

Clemons grew up in the projects of a predominantly black working class community His family and neighbors struggled economically at one point Clemons an excellent student and math whiz even helped his mother s boyfriend run a numbers racket Still Clemons and his mother were devout attendees of the local Baptist church ...

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Laura M. Calkins

football player, was born in Mansfield, Louisiana, to Paul C. and Mary Howell. Little is known of their early lives, but in the late 1880s Howell's parents decided to leave Louisiana, seeking a new life in the American West. In 1888 the Howell family and their six children (Abner was the only boy) reached Dodge City, Kansas, and then traveled together to Trinidad, Colorado. Under unknown circumstances, the family split up; Paul Howell went ahead by train, reaching Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1888. Mary and the children remained in Colorado until 1890 when they were able to join Paul in Salt Lake City where he had been hired as the city s first black policeman Although Paul and Mary Howell did not join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints LDS which was based in Salt Lake City and commonly known as the ...

Article

Luke Nichter

Negro National League commissioner, longtime Harlem community activist, and ordained Episcopalian minister was born in Richmond, Virginia, to John Wesley and Harriet Howard Johnson.

Although Johnson was known primarily for his role as the last president of the Negro National League (NNL), he actually had little baseball acumen. In fact his sport of choice was basketball, and as a student-athlete at Columbia University in the early 1920s, he was one of the best basketball players of his day.

After graduating with a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in Anthropology from Columbia College, Johnson studied at Union Theological and General Theological seminaries in Manhattan. Then in 1923 he became an ordained minister in the Episcopal Church, beginning a career of service in Harlem that spanned seven decades. In 1928 he founded St. Martin's Parish in Harlem and by the late 1940s had overseen the congregation s ...

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Jason Philip Miller

professional football player and union organizer, was born in Roosevelt, on New York's Long Island. He was one of seven children, and his father was a minister. He attended Hempstead High School in New York and played football there. After graduation, he attended Syracuse University and played football with the Orange as a tight end from 1960 to 1962.

Mackey was a standout with quick hands and feet. In just two seasons, he racked up 481 yards and six touchdowns. During his junior year, he recorded 321 yards as a tight end, setting what was then a Syracuse record. Mackey graduated in 1963, and in the same year was taken by the Baltimore Colts in the second round of the National Football League (NFL) draft. While tight ends function in the modern NFL primarily as short-range receivers, in 1963 NFL teams were just beginning to integrate ...

Article

Claude Johnson

was born Hudson Jones Oliver, Jr. in New York City, the third child of Hudson Jones Oliver, Sr. and Cecelia Washington Oliver. His father was a longtime stenographer and confidential secretary for Thomas Prosser & Son of Brooklyn, the United States agents for the steel and arms producer Friedrich Krupp AG of Essen, Germany. His mother was a homemaker.

Hudson “Huddy” Oliver was a brilliant player for several historically important African American basketball teams during the late 1900s and early 1910s. He later graduated from Howard University Medical School and became a prominent Harlem physician.

“Huddy” Oliver was the first “superstar” of the Black Fives Era of basketball, the period from 1904, when the sport was first introduced to African Americans on a wide scale organized basis, through the racial integration of the National Basketball Association in 1950 Dozens of African American teams emerged and flourished in New ...

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Adam W. Green

baseball player, was born and raised in the South Side of Chicago, Illinois, the youngest of nine children of William Puckett, a department store and postal worker, and Catherine Puckett, a homemaker. Growing up in the crime-ridden Robert Taylor Homes projects, Puckett taught himself baseball fundamentals at an early age, throwing sock balls at a chalk strike zone on building walls. As a third baseman at Calumet High, he lifted weights to compensate for his diminutive (five-foot, eight-inch) stature.

After receiving little collegiate attention his senior year, Puckett worked on a Ford assembly line following graduation in 1979 at the age of 19 Noticed by a college coach at a free agent tryout Puckett was offered a scholarship to Bradley University Though small and round the atypical body for a centerfielder let alone leading base stealer the speedy Puckett moved to center field and led the ...

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Leroy Nesbitt and Desmond Wolfe

Lucy Diggs Slowe was born in Berryville, Virginia, a farming community in Clark County. Following the premature deaths of her parents, Henry Slowe and Fannie Potter, the owners of the only hotel in Berryville, young Lucy joined the home of Martha Slowe Price, her paternal aunt in Lexington, Virginia. A few years later she and the Price family moved to Baltimore, Maryland, to improve their economic and educational opportunities. Looking back on her childhood, Lucy noted that her aunt had very pronounced ideas on dignity, morality, and religion, which she did not fail to impress upon Lucy and her cousin.

Always an excellent student, Lucy was salutatorian of her 1904 class at Baltimore Colored High School and the first female graduate of her high school to receive a college scholarship to Howard University At Howard University she was active in numerous literary social musical and athletic ...