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April 27, 2007

Things You Didn't Know About Muhammad Ali

From David Remnick's King of the World:

When he became a Muslim, Ali would say that Clay was his slave name -- and that, of course, was true. But it was also a name in which his family took a certain pride. Cassius Clay was named for an abolitionist, a nineteenth-century Kentucky farmer who inherited forty slaves and a plantation called White Hall in the town of Foxtown in Madison County, Kentucky. Clay was six-foot-six and commanded troops in the war with Mexico. When he returned home, he became an abolitionist and edited an antislavery newspaper in in Lexington called The True American. He was one of the first men in the state to free the slaves on his plantation.

Clay ignored death threats and gave speeches in Kentucky denouncing slavery. "For those who have respect for the laws of God, I have this argument," he said, theatrically laying down a leather-bound copy of the Holy Bible. "For those who believe in the laws of man, I have this argument." Now he laid down a copy of the state constitution. "And for those who believe neither in the laws of God nor of man, I have this argument," and he laid down two pistols and a Bowie knife. During one debate with a proslavery candidate for state office, Clay was stabbed in the chest; luckily, he was carrying his Bowie knife and stabbed his assailant back. Abraham Lincoln sent Clay to Russia for the government, but he returned from St. Petersburg for more abolitionist activity. He maintained his physical courage till the end. When he was eighty-four, he married a fifteen-year-old girl.

April 27, 2007 in Quotes -- Nonfiction | Permalink

Comments

Wow. Just ... wow.

Posted by: sangfroid826 | Apr 27, 2007 7:10:33 PM

It's been downhill for Republicans for the last 140 years, hasn't it?

Posted by: FMguru | Apr 27, 2007 7:13:44 PM

Knew it.

Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Apr 27, 2007 7:38:05 PM

When he was eighty-four, he married a fifteen-year-old girl.

Hunh. I respected him up until that last sentence.

Posted by: Susan | Apr 27, 2007 7:45:12 PM

In Clay's defense, it was common at that time for young girls to marry Civil War veterans in order to obtain their war pension. While it is unclear if that is the case here, it is possible.

Posted by: Eric | Apr 27, 2007 8:03:33 PM

Sign him up for the 08 campaign as the spokesperson for a leading Dem. candidate who wants to be a fighter (hello... Hillary, Barak, Edwards....)

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Apr 27, 2007 9:12:08 PM

Physical courage indeed. Marrying a 15 year old at 84. Testing the old ticker one last time.

Posted by: Klein's tiny left nut | Apr 27, 2007 11:12:40 PM

Odd bit of trivia: Richard Kiel, who played Jaws in two James Bond pictures, has been developing a film about Cassius Clay for the last quarter century.

Posted by: Jim S. | Apr 27, 2007 11:41:30 PM

Yeah, that last sentence didn't help much.

Still, all in all, a solid guy.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Apr 28, 2007 12:18:46 AM

Y'all are all insane.

The last two sentences are a beautiful punchline that the whole piece has been setting up.

The last two sentences make me want to buy Remnick's book, which hadn't been on my radar previously.

(Tangentially, I'm surprised it hasn't been on my radar, since I've got a bit of an Ali fetish and since I also like Remnick.)

Posted by: Petey | Apr 28, 2007 3:20:07 AM

When he was eighty-four, he married a fifteen-year-old girl.

This just goes to show how much times have changed.
For Susan: It's not fair to judge these historical figures, who were upstanding by the standards of the time, by your standards. What you call statutory rape today was blessed by society then.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Apr 28, 2007 8:35:55 AM

Petey,

It's a great book. About Ali sure, but the back stories to all of the events are fascinating. The Sonny Liston parts stick out in my head despite reading it a few years ago.

Posted by: JW | Apr 28, 2007 10:44:38 AM

'Cassius Clay came back as a prizefighter. Descended from fearless abolitionist roots, he knocked out Joe Frazier, Gerald Liston and Oscar Bonavena disproving the notion that black people were destined to be drunkards, thieves or dopedealers. Cassius Clay was the same man. Large in paunch, he began to win fights at the age of nine and continued in the manner of Matthew Brady seeking a lenswash until the age of injury. Taking a name belonging to Muhammad and Ali, not to mention many forebearers who practiced Islam even under lash and arrowpiles, must have been difficult for this large man but he was not a one to ever really shrink from the notion of explaining combat strategy to free kings or any blackreputed draftee. "Fly like a butterfly." And the helicopters would barrage. "Sting like a bee." And the attack arrows would sound. Sally Hemings could not have done for any religion what Cassius Clay did for Islam. It is his legacy that the towers of strength who are decent people are no longer cut down in their prime by the hellhole sport of freedman's boxing.'

Posted by: ed | Apr 28, 2007 12:32:02 PM

I'd like to call attention to this quote:

"During one debate with a proslavery candidate for state office, Clay was stabbed in the chest; luckily, he was carrying his Bowie knife and stabbed his assailant back."

And people wonder why nobody follows politics anymore!

Posted by: Jon O. | Apr 28, 2007 1:29:43 PM

"It's not fair to judge these historical figures, who were upstanding by the standards of the time, by your standards."

Who knew Fred was a cultural relativist? I can only assume you also believe that we shouldn't judge, say, fundamentalist Muslims for their approach towards women and liberty either, since they have different standards. Yeah?

Posted by: sidereal | Apr 28, 2007 2:52:34 PM

sidreal,

Knowing that you would be reading this, I should have used more exact language with smaller words. All girls at that time married at around 15. By 18, you were approaching spinsterhood.

This was by the women's own standards. If you believe it was all men's fault, you have been on pandagon too long.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Apr 28, 2007 5:49:16 PM

All girls at that time married at around 15. By 18, you were approaching spinsterhood.

Not so, though it was much more accepted to marry at that age. You didn't really respond to sidereal's point. Even if the very questionable implication you seem to draw about women's standards were true, you're still making a relativist argument.

Posted by: Sanpete | Apr 28, 2007 6:18:58 PM

What of the 19th century British clergyman whose name I forget who at the age of twenty married a forty year old woman, lived with her for forty years, became a widower, married a twenty year old Polish refugee, had a couple of kids, lived for twenty years with her, and kicked off?

In the even more complicated Mormon marriage system of the 19th century it's sometimes fairly easy (because they left rather massive documentation) to deduce which marriages were exploitive or destructive (all plural marriages, of course, have unique risks) and which were companionable and reasonably happy, and the division seems not at all to coincide with the criteria we might apply on the basis of things like relative age.

Posted by: Gene O'Grady | Apr 28, 2007 11:59:50 PM

I wonder if the two had sex? I was listening to an NPR interview with a Confederate war widow who married her husband when he was 80 something, and she was 19. It appeared he wanted a nursemaid, and she married him for the pension. She had a hick accent and said something like "He waddnit inna kissing and all that".

There may have been family pressure as well, to get rid of a daughter because of poverty or whatever.

I believe she remarried in her late 20s to someone in his 30s. It's been a year or more since I heard the story.

Posted by: anon | Apr 29, 2007 9:22:56 PM

I wonder if the two had sex? I was listening to an NPR interview with a Confederate war widow who married her husband when he was 80 something, and she was 19. It appeared he wanted a nursemaid, and she married him for the pension. She had a hick accent and said something like "He waddnit inna kissing and all that".

In some cases with these May-December marriages, they (alledgedly) did, such as with the last confederate widow, Alberta Martin:

Martin was a 21-year-old widow with a young son when she married 82-year-old William Jasper Martin, a former Confederate Army private, in 1927 in southern Alabama. They were married nearly five years and had one son before the veteran died in 1932.

Oh, but it gets better:

Two months later, she married William Martin’s grandson from a previous marriage.

Posted by: Constantine | Apr 30, 2007 12:03:17 AM

Hmm, 2 months later? I wonder if the grandson was actually the father of the woman's 2nd son.

Posted by: anon | Apr 30, 2007 5:38:11 AM

Clay was an emancipationist, not an abolitionist. He the difference is that former tries to eliminate slavery through the system in steps, the later wants it stopped immediately and not necessarily through legal means. Clay released most, but not all of his slaves. He did blow his fortune in the cause. He divorced his wife of 45 years and married a teen, but she divorced him soon after and remarried. He died a few years later, broke.

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