Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

The Roots of a Great Fighter's Names

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

The Roots of a Great Fighter's Names

Article excerpt

The following CORRECTION/CLARIFICATION appeared on June 9, 2016.Author Johnny Smith said Nation of Islam teachings held that American blacks' names were slave names because they were given to their enslaved ancestors by owners. In a story Wednesday about Muhammad Ali, the description of slave names was incorrect.

When Cassius M. Clay Jr. announced to the world that he wanted to be known by a new name, he said he was done with what he called "my slave name."

Ironically, Cassius Marcellus Clay, for whom Muhammad Ali's father was named, was a 19th-century abolitionist. Herman Heaton Clay, a descendant of African-American slaves, named his son - born nine years after the death of the Kentucky politician who was Abraham Lincoln's minister to Russia - in tribute to the abolitionist Cassius Clay.

Mr. Ali, who died Friday at age 74, renounced his birth name when he converted to Islam and joined the Nation of Islam. His reference to that name as a slave name comes from the beliefs of the Nation of Islam.

Whether or not he knew that his father had been named after an abolitionist, he was in accord with Nation of Islam teachings that held that American blacks' names were slave names because they were given to their enslaved ancestors by their owners, said Johnny Smith, co-author of the book "Blood Brothers: The Fatal Relationship between Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X" and a professor at Georgia Tech.

"Cassius began to see the history of America through the lens of race and accepted the idea that racism and violence controlled his ancestors," Mr. Smith said. "He's rejecting a heritage tied to slavery ... and asserting his freedom." Mr. Ali joined the Nation of Islam after visiting a mosque while training in Miami. From there, he met Malcolm X, a spiritual and political mentor, at a rally in Detroit, Mr. …

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