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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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Jeff Shantz

civil and labor rights activist, was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In 1941, at the age of twelve, Smith ran away from home and joined the U.S. Navy. The navy did not discover their mistake in enlisting the underage Smith until he had reached the age of fourteen, by which time Smith had successfully passed through boot camp and sailed to Europe. During his two years in the navy, Smith would learn two skills that would greatly influence the course of his life: boxing and heavy equipment operation.

Upon his return to Pittsburgh in 1943, the fourteen-year-old Smith chose not to return to school. Instead he decided to devote himself full time to boxing. In two years as a middleweight fighter Smith participated in more than one hundred professional fights. He also met and developed a friendship with Edgar Kaufmann a Pittsburgh department store owner and boxing ...