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punches & prayers

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Although the world know the greatest boxer as Muhammad Ali, he was named at birth, Cassius Clay Jr. after his father who was named after a white abolitionist. Cassius Clay Jr. was a descendant of slaves of the antebellum south.


Clay grew up poor and racially oppressed as a black person in the American South in the 1940's.

When Ali was 12 years old, his bike was stolen. He reported this theft to a police officer, saying if he gets his hands on the thief he would "whup" them. The officer, Joe, became Clay's first trainer.

One of Cassius Clay's opponents pulled a gun in a crowded casino and fired shots at him after weeks of Clay's trash talking

Two days after becoming the heavyweight champion of the world, Cassius Clay Jr. announced that he had accepted the teachings of The Nation of Islam and had been given a new name of "Muhammad Ali".

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In 1967, Ali fought Ernie Terrell, an opponent who refused to use Ali's new name. Toward the end of the match, Ali could be heard powerfully questioning Terrell, "What's my name?" while landing blows in a fight he ultimately won.

Boxing in the ring and training everyday was a wonderful outlet for many frustrations Clay felt. He always had a quick whit and disarming sense of humor even in the face of racism

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At the age of 19, as the best amateur boxer in the country, Clay won the gold medal for the USA in the 1960 Rome Olympics

Cassius Clay proudly wore his medal around Kentucky. One day a restaurant refused him service. "We don't serve Negros," the waiter said. "Well, I don't eat Negros, just bring me a hamburger." Clay was asked to leave and reports he was so upset he threw his gold medal into the Ohio river that day.

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Trash talk was not the norm in the sport world or even in boxing when Clay appeared on the scene. Clay not only tormented his opponents with trash talk but hyped himself up, describing himself as "the greatest" or "too pretty to lose".

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In 1967, at the height of his career and athleticism, Ali refused to be drafted and sent to Vietnam. He claimed conscientious-objector status on religion and racial grounds. He maintained his beliefs and was convicted of draft evading. He stood before an all-white jury and was sentenced to serve 5 years in prison, a $10,000 fine, and was stripped of his boxing titles and banned from the sport.

He was plain-spoken in challenging white America to look at the black experience. Often using his platform to speak about inequality.

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By 1985, he had a new mission: He devoted his life to humanitarian aims, especially in bridging devices between the West and the Muslim world.

In 1990, Ali traveled to Iraq to negotiate the release of 15 American civilian prisoners, using his platform as a world-famous Muslim,.

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