Editor's Note: We are pleased to inform our loyal readers that we have heard you and Vincent L. Hall has also heard you! Just like Magic Johnson, Randall Cunningham, Michael Jordan, Tina Turner, Deion Sanders, Brett Favre, Justine Henin, Lauryn Hill, Tom Brady, Cher and yes, the GOAT - Muhammad Ali! After a lengthy and grueling but amicable process we were able to reach terms and you can continue reading his insightful, thought-provoking, informative and liberating thoughts on these pages!!!
I am the greatest. I said that before I even knew I was.– Muhammad Ali
1967 was turning to face spring and three impressionable boys were fully engaged. Me, Michael Jackson and Prince were all around eight. James Brown had the three of us dancing to a new smash hit ; “Papa’s got a Brand New Bag.”
Meanwhile a potent hurricane was predicted for Houston, Texas.
This “pretty” poet/pugilist self-named Muhammad Ali publicly rejected his government name, Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr.
Later, I learned that Clay was named for a powerful and prestigious abolitionist. His parents plotted to emblazon destiny on young Cassius’s conscience by naming him for greatness. B
But Ali realized that he could not call himself “The Greatest” with a carefully selected “slave name.”
1967 was a year of wonderment for me. The Vietnam War was televised and I was petrified that I might someday be drafted. The War, though I studied it intimately and daily, was confusing as I had it proffered to me by Walter Cronkite.
If all of Vietnam was a hazardous battleground, what was a “Demilitarized Zone?” So peace is possible, but the body bag business is booming?
Nothing made much sense to me after JFK was killed three miles from my front door…Nothing!!
I switched channels to find sportscaster Howard Cosell; a man whom I admired and trusted for one reason…Cosell defended fully the rights of the former Cassius Marcellus Clay to be called whatever the hell he wanted.
Be leery of the “America the paradise” historians who will white wash Ali and recast him as some sort of candy-assed, highly celebrated conformist, ready-made for a “Wheaties” box. Ali didn’t earn that coveted cereal-box cameo until 1999, after the Olympic torch.
Before Ali became an “acceptable Negro,” most White folks and a lot of Negroes hated him. To this crowd his first names were uppity, loudmouth, troublemaking and a few other invectives, but they all agreed that his surname was Nigger.
From Clay to Ali, he grew up in an environment that was hostile, hurtful and humiliating to his race. Save that Kumbaya ‘ish!
Black America’s eyes and ears affixed on Houston, Texas. More ears than eyes because televisions were a middle-class luxury. Houston rocketed to fame by landing NASA.
Ali’s outspoken arrogance would be tested at the “8th Wonder of the World; The Astrodome.” The Astrodome was the first enclosed football arena and earned Houston a significant amount of tourism.
Muhammad Ali entered the ring intent on delivering a resounding ass-whipping to his opponent and his haters. He paced the ring keeping constant eye contact.
He looked at six-foot-six inch Ernie Terrell like he was a midget. During the pre-fight hype, Terrell mocked the name change, currying favor with Whites and Black Christians who despised Ali, Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam.
But watching, I thought Terrell had talked about Ali’s mama. In our community “The Dozens” will get you hurt quickly and seriously; with or without gloves and a protective cup.
Throughout the contest I could see Ali constantly mouthing something to Terrell, but couldn’t make it out. Camera angles and close-ups were not nearly as refined then, but Ali allowed him to stay conscious long enough to finish this speech he was spitting.
A few days later I learned that the whole while he brutalized Terrell, he was asking him “What’s my name? What’s my name boy?
Terrell finally had to say his name. My middle daughter, Alison was named partially for Ali, because the name Ali means “Greatness” around the world.
Ali is “The Greatest” because he named it and claimed it. Ali made Black beautiful and us proud and was the progenitor of a movement.
Ali whipped his non-believers and made them acquiesce. Greatness requires bearing the sacrifices that come with your beliefs. BTW…What’s your name?
Vincent L. Hall is an author, activist, and an award-winning columnist.