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Friday, February 25, 2011

Spotlight On: Black History Month (Muhammad Ali)

On this day in 1964, a 22-year-old boxer named Cassius Clay defeated Sonny Liston to become the new Heavyweight Champion. It is this fight where Clay predicted that he would "float like a butterfly, sting like a bee." Liston was an 8-to-1 favorite going into the match, but Clay won by technical knockout in the 7th round.

To celebrate winning the world heavyweight title, Clay went to a private party that was attended by his friend Malcolm X, an outspoken leader of the African American Muslim group known as the Nation of Islam. Two days later, Clay, a descendant of a runaway slave, announced he was joining the Nation of Islam. Later that year he rejected the family name given by a slave owner and took the Muslim name of Muhammad Ali.

Many know Ali today for his struggle with Parkinson's disease. He is one of the greatest athlete's of all-time, with many memorable fights, including 1974's Rumble in the Jungle vs George Forman. You might also remember he was bestowed with the honor of lighting the flame at the 1996 Summer Olympic Games.

If you want to read a terrific biography of Ali, my first suggestion is always The Greatest: Muhammad Ali by Walter Dean Myers. Fight sequences are interwoven with Ali's life story and the political issues of the time. Black-and-white photographs are also included. It takes an author as talented and skilled as Myers to cover a legend like Ali.

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