Boxing great Cassius Clay, once converting to Islam, changed his name to Mohammed Ali. He said he didn't want to carry a White man's name. Oh, if he had only studied history.
Cassius Marcellus Clay was born in Kentucky, in 1810. The son of a wealthy planter, Cassius was the only one of seven children to survive. Cassius not only came from a very wealthy family, but was family to the great Henry Clay, "The Great Compromiser", who tried for years to head off the Civil War.
Cassius himself learned to hate slavery while attending Yale University. While there, he heard a speech by the great abolitionist champion, William Lloyd Garrison. After Garrison's lecture Cassius would never see slavery the same way ever again.
When Clay finished his education he came back to Kentucky and served three terms in the Kentucky statehouse, all the while trying to pass laws that would ban slavery in that state. Finally the slave-owning voters had had enough and turned him out of office.
Undeterred, Clay set up a publishing house, and began turning out a newspaper that advocated for the end of slavery. His newspaper office was often trashed, and Clay would sweep up the ruins, and begin again.
Once while appearing at an abolitionist rally, Clay was attacked by six men. He was shot in the chest, but managed to stay on his feet, whip all six men, finally saving his own life by stabbing one of his assailants and driving his attackers off. Once the attack was over Clay once again mounted the podium, finishing his speech before seeking medical attention.
When slavery advocates finally succeeded in burning down his publishing house for good, Clay simply relocated it to abolitionist friendly, Cincinnati, Ohio, and continued publishing his abolitionist papers.
As a Captain in the 1st Kentucky Calvary, Clay served in the Mexican-American war, but all the while opposing the annexation of Texas because Texans wanted to expand slavery into that state.
In 1850 Cassius Clay formed the Republican Party of Kentucky. He became good friends with a fellow named Abe Lincoln, and supported Lincoln in his run for the Presidency.
After his election, Lincoln summoned 51 year old Cassius Clay to Washington, intent on naming him Ambassador to Russia. However, in the first weeks leading up to the war, Washington D.C. was without any military forces that might protect the capital from Southern invasion.
No problem. Cassius Clay rounded up a few of his friends, then combed the rooms of Washington hotels, and formed a 300 man posse to protect the President and The White House. Clay would, thereafter be called "The White Lion", leader of the Washington Guards.
The immediate crisis over, Cassius Clay finally made it to Russia, where he would convince Russia to support the Union and sever ties with the South.
Then, in 1862, Lincoln recalled Clay back to America, intent on making him a Major General in the Union Army. However, Clay refused the offer.....saying he would not serve unless Lincoln issued a proclamation that freed the slaves. Not many people know that it was Cassius Clay who was the most formidable influence on Lincoln's freeing the slaves.
Emancipation Proclamation achieved, Cassius Clay returned to his post in Russia, serving admirably for three Presidents until he resigned his post in 1869.
Cassius Clay, the only sibling of seven to survive childhood, would live to the ripe old age of 93, fighting his own family, and his own people, for his entire life, to end the practice of enslaving other human beings.
Cassius Clay, the fighter changed his name to Mohammed Ali. Had he known his history, had he known the history of his name sake, he might have accepted his name with much greater grace. Two "Cassiuses", each a fighter in their own times, and in their own arenas....a glorious legacy for those willing to learn history.