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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 ...

Article

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 ...

Article

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.

Article

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 ...

Article

Anene Ejikeme

Nigerian world featherweight boxing champion, more popularly known as Hogan “Kid” Bassey, was born in the village of Ufok Ubet, Creek Town, Calabar, Nigeria, on 3 June 1932 He was one of five children born to his parents who were cultivators of modest means At the age of eleven Bassey moved to Lagos to live with a maternal aunt and to continue his education Sending a child often the eldest to live with a relative in a town or city with better educational opportunities and with the expectation that the child would later assume responsibility for parents siblings or other relatives was common practice It was in Lagos that Bassey encountered the sport of boxing As a youth he enjoyed school although he was not a great scholar sports however were his passion and he participated in soccer swimming running jumping and other athletics first at school then at ...

Article

Angela Black

business owner and entertainment promoter, was born in Danville, Virginia, to Claude Carlton and Marion Baskerville, about whom little is known. Ruth attended the Westmoreland Elementary School and Langston High School in Danville. Ruth's family moved to New York City when she was a teenager, and she graduated from Girls High School in Brooklyn. After attending New York University for two years, she met and fell in love with Wallace “Billy” Bowen, a member of the popular Ink Spots, one of the few entertainment groups in the 1940s and 1950s to break the race barrier and perform for white audiences across the United States. Bowen left school and she and Billy were married until his death in 1982.

Bowen managed the daily office responsibilities of her husband s business She also traveled the United States with the Ink Spots during their concert tours During the 1940s the Bowens ...

Article

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 ...

Article

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 ...

Article

Boxing.  

Elliott J. Gorn

Prizefighting began in England, where by the late eighteenth century it was acknowledged as the “national sport” but was also illegal. Boxers fought with bare knuckles, most forms of wrestling and hitting were permitted, and fights lasted until one or both contestants quit or could not continue. Tom Molineaux, a free black, was the first great American fighter. In two matches in England in 1810 and 1811, Molineaux came close to defeating the English champion Tom Cribb. Becoming famous in England, Molineaux remained virtually unknown to Americans, who initially showed little interest in the prize ring. This changed in the mid–nineteenth century as a modern working class, including many immigrants from England and Ireland, arose in American cities. A series of matches culminated with an 1849 championship fight, tinged with ethnic antipathy, between James “Yankee” Sullivan, an Irish immigrant, and the native-born Tom Hyer Hyer ...

Article

Jason Philip Miller

professional football player, was born in Oakland, California, to Geneva Moore and a father he would never get to know. His parents split when he was three years old, and his mother relocated the family to Omaha, Nebraska, where she had relatives and where she was able to get work at a local packinghouse. From a cousin, a youth sports coach, Briscoe learned a love of sports and athletics that would last the rest of his life.

Briscoe attended local schools, including South Omaha High, where he was both a football and basketball standout. He graduated in 1962 and accepted a scholarship to the University of Nebraska Omaha Black quarterbacks were at the time still a rarity but Briscoe had occasionally played the position at South Omaha High and he wanted to continue in college His new coach Al Caniglia recognized his talent and offered him the quarterback ...

Article

Michael L. Krenn

boxer, was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Little is known about his early life or his parents, except that the family lived on the brink of poverty.

Brown worked a number of different jobs—carpentry among them—before beginning his boxing career in 1943 in New Orleans, winning a four-round decision. Almost immediately, however, his participation in the professional sport was cut short when he was drafted to fight in World War II. Brown spent nearly two years in the U.S. Navy—most of it in the Pacific Theater—during which time he continued to box, finally winning the All-Service Lightweight Championship before his discharge in 1945. Following his return to civilian life, in 1946 Brown threw himself back into professional prizefighting averaging from seven to twelve fights a year sometimes with only a week s rest between bouts Despite his enthusiasm and seemingly limitless energy his career did not get off ...

Article

Steven J. Niven

prison musician, was born to sharecroppers in Greenwood, Mississippi. The names of his parents have not been recorded. Like most children in the Mississippi Delta at that time, Carter assisted his family in bringing in the cotton crop, which was particularly precarious during the severe agricultural depression of the 1930s that drastically reduced the price of cotton. With little or no formal education, Carter left home at age thirteen, in 1939, in search of work. Not finding any, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy during World War II—some sources suggest he served in the U.S. Marines—and served on cruisers in the Pacific theater. He returned to Greenwood when the war ended. In 1947 he married his childhood sweetheart, a sharecropper's daughter named Rosie Lee whose maiden name is unknown. The couple had three daughters.

Work was no easier to come by after the war than it had been before ...

Article

James S. Hirsch

boxer who was wrongfully convicted of triple homicide in two racially charged trials, was born in Delawanna, New Jersey, the son of Bertha, a homemaker, and Lloyd Carter, an entrepreneur and church deacon who stressed to his seven children the importance of family pride and unity.

The Carters moved to nearby Paterson when Rubin was six years old, and the youngster soon developed a reputation for brawling, rebelling against authority, and committing petty crimes. At seventeen he escaped from Jamesburg State Home for Boys, where he had been sentenced for cutting a man with a bottle, and joined the army. As a member of the Eleventh Airborne, he was sent to Germany, where he learned to box and won the European Light Welterweight Championship.

Discharged from the army in 1956 Carter returned to Paterson but was soon in trouble again The following year he pled guilty to robbing ...

Article

Skyler Boeding

professional bantamweight world champion boxer, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Little is known of his early life, including the names and occupations of his parents or his education. At the age of 19 he walked into the Juniper Gym in South Philadelphia, owned by the O’Neill family, who were noted in the city for their success in training boxers. Managed by the legendary “KO” Becky O’Neill, a rare woman in the masculine boxing world, Chandler turned professional in 1976 after competing in only two amateur fights The experience of the O Neill team brought Chandler to peak physical and mental condition by the time of his first professional fight At 5 foot 7 inches he was relatively tall for a bantamweight under 118 pounds and this also gave him some advantages He won fights early and often when deploying his self described method of touching them lightly first ...

Article

Michael L. Krenn

boxer and former light heavyweight and heavyweight champion of the world, was born in Lawrenceville, Georgia, the son of William and Alberta Charles. His father was a truck driver; little is known about his mother. According to Charles, his unusual first name came from the doctor who delivered him, W. P. Ezzard. His early life before his boxing career is somewhat vague. What is known is that at about the age of nine, he moved from Georgia to live with his grandmother and great-grandmother in Cincinnati, Ohio, following the divorce of his parents.

He took up amateur boxing as a teenager, and while still in high school won the Amateur Athletic Union's national middleweight title. In 1940 just nineteen years old Charles turned professional and over the next three years fought thirty six times with thirty four wins one loss and one draw Charles did not shy ...

Article

Donna L. Halper

radio personality and advertising executive, was most likely the first black announcer in the history of broadcasting, on the air as early as 1924. His successful radio career would span four decades and make him a wealthy man. Cooper did not come from an entertainment background. Born in Memphis, Tennessee, he was one of ten children of William and Lavina Cooper. Jack Cooper quit school after the fifth grade to help support his impoverished family. He held a number of low-paying jobs and for a time got interested in boxing, winning more than a hundred bouts as a welterweight fighter. But he found his calling on the vaudeville stage, where he became a singer and dancer, beginning in 1905 and continuing well into the 1920s. He was more than just a performer, writing and producing skits and entire shows, often in collaboration with his first wife Estelle ...

Article

Jeremy Rich

He was said to have had a very abusive father, although it is difficult to ascertain any clear information about his early life. Dhlamini attended a Catholic mission primary school for several years, before leaving his father’s farm in 1935 to make a living in the city of Durban. Dhlamini worked briefly as a gardener, but then headed for the larger city of Johannesburg. It was there that he developed a reputation for his athleticism. He originally had joined a Durban soccer team that had traveled to play in Johannesburg, but decided to stay.

Dhlamini soon became a feared figure in Johannesburg s notorious underworld of criminal gangs Many stories purport to tell the tale of how he became a boxer In one account he supposedly laughed when he first entered a boxing gym because the fighters were wearing cushions gloves rather than sparring bare handed He then mocked the ...

Article

Luckett V. Davis

boxer, was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, but was brought by his parents to Boston when he was eight years old. There he attended school and, in 1884, began working for Elmer Chickering, a photographer who specialized in making portraits of boxers. While on a job Dixon saw boxing matches at the Boston Music Hall and decided to pursue a boxing career. After a few amateur bouts he attracted the attention of Tom O'Rourke, a former boxer who taught Dixon and managed him throughout most of his career.

Dixon became a professional boxer in 1888, and by the end of the year he was well known in the Boston area due to a thrilling series of fights with a local hero, Hank Brennan Weighing less than 100 pounds Dixon proved to be an extremely clever boxer good at defense and capable of landing hard ...