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Book Excerpt: Muhammad Ali: Champion

Muhammad Ali: Champion

Written by Arlene Schulman
Published by Lerner Publications

They would sit at night, and he would tell her that he was going to be the champion of the world. In their ramshackle house in Louisville, Kentucky, when the sun had set and the lights were out, 12-year-old Cassius Clay told his mother of his dream. He would knock out opponents one by one, raise his hands in victory as the ring announcer introduced him as the new world champion, and become rich and famous.

"One night I heard (heavyweight champion) Rocky Marciano fighting on the radio," he said. "It sounded so big and powerful and exciting."

Cassius Marcellus Clay was born on January 17, 1942 in Louisville. The first of two sons born to Odessa Clay and Cassius Clay Sr., Cassius Jr. demonstrated his fondness for attention even at an early age. Mrs. Clay, exhausted from a difficult delivery, could hear her young son cry and scream and wake up the other babies in the hospital.

"Gee-gee, gee-gee," were Cassius's first words, his mother said. He later claimed he was trying to say "Golden Gloves", the name of a prestigious national boxing tournament that he won twice as a teenager. "When he was a child, he never sat still," his mother recalled. "He walked and talked before his time."

Black Louisville was divided into three sections - East End, the California area, and West End, where the Clays lived. Like most of the families in the neighborhood, they were poor. The family car was always at least 10 years old with worn-out tires. The house always needed painting. The front porch sagged, and during rainy weather, water leaked through the roof and walls. Many of the children's clothes were secondhand. Once in while, the Clays were able to afford a new shirt or a new pair of pants for Cassius and his younger brother, Rudy - but not often.


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