“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. His hands can’t hit what his eyes can’t see. Now you see me, now you don’t. George thinks he will, but I know he won’t.” ~ Muhammad Ali
On June 3, 2016, Muhammad Ali passed at the age of 74 in Phoenix, Arizona. He was a professional boxer and one of the greatest athletes in the world. Known for his boxing skills and trash talking, Ali was both inspirational and controversial. Ali won three world heavyweight championship titles, was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame, named Sportsman of the Year, received the Presidential Citizens Medal in 2001 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005. Ali also was an activist and humanitarian, who raised funds for the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center and the Special Olympics.
Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr. was born on January 12, 1942 in Louisville, Kentucky. He began boxing at the age of 12, after threatening to “whip” the person who stole his bicycle. Ali won six Kentucky Golden Glove titles, two national Golden Glove titles, and a gold medal in the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome. At the age of 22, Clay won his first heavyweight title by defeating reigning champion Sonny Liston.
In 1962, Clay met Malcolm X, who became his spiritual advisor and friend. He joined the Nation of Islam in 1964 and changed his name to Muhammad Ali. In 1967, Ali refused to serve in the armed forces during the Vietnam War due to his religious beliefs. He was charged with draft evasion and sentenced to five years in prison, fined $10,000, and banned from boxing for three years. The conviction was overturned by the US Supreme Court in 1971. The National Archives holds records relating to his arrest and successful appeal in the series Case Files and Enclosures Relating to Cassius Clay, Jr. (Muhammad Ali), 1967-1969 (NAID 22930205).
During his exile, and continuing after his reinstatement to the boxing world, Ali started making television appearances where he had the opportunity to be openly vocal about the state of black people in America. He often expressed opinions about the reality of inequality, bigotry, and racism experienced by African Americans on a daily basis; as well as his support of social movements like Black Power and Civil Rights.
Ali was involved in several legendary boxing matches. In 1974, he fought George Foreman in Kinshasa, Zaire, in an event promoted by Don King billed as the “Rumble in the Jungle.” Ali also fought Joe Frazier in 1975 in Quezon City, Philippines, in the “Thrilla in Manila.” He continued his boxing career with matches against Leon Spinks, Larry Holmes, and Trevor Berbick. Ali retired from boxing in 1981 at the age of 39.
Before his sporting and civic contributions were recognized by Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, Muhammad Ali was chosen to light the flame in the opening ceremony of the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia.
Muhammad Ali’s life and legacy in and outside of the ring proves that he was truly The Greatest.
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