CM . . . .
Volume VII Number 13 . . . . March 2, 2001
He understood as well as the men who wished to "handle" him that his Olympic gold medal could be turned into a lucrative fighting career if he maintained himself as Cassius Clay and took the route that Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano, Sugar Ray Robinson, and other fighters he admired had taken. He would have been wealthy, respected, and could have had a predictable career by merely accepting what was being offered to him in exchange for his skills. But Ali lived by his own beliefs. Some sportswriters suggested that he had been "fooled" by the Nation of Islam--that Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali was being manipulated by people more clever than him into taking an unpopular stance. But young black men in the 1960s struggled for manhood against often overwhelming odds. In order to maintain the courage of his convictions, Muhammad Ali was willing to take whatever punishment America was willing to hand him.Reviewed from prepublication copy.
Walter Dean Myers is an African American writer who has received two Newbery Honor awards and five Coretta Scott King Awards. There are few superlatives that do justice to the power and the conviction of his biography of Muhammad Ali. As Myers draws us into the passions and paradoxes of Ali the fighter--Ali the Blackman--Ali the legend, we are privileged to share his remarkable insights into the hidden spirit of the twentieth century's greatest athlete. It is simply a magnificent accomplishment.
Myers plumbs the depths of Ali's courage that found its physical focus in his boxing career but its elemental strength in his Blackness. Every day of his life, in the racist America of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali saw ordinary Black men and women scorned and demeaned as "boy" and "mammy." He saw Black heroes turned into "Uncle Toms," who rejected their race for fame and glory only to be cast-off by white society. However, he found it in himself not to be used and humiliated. Using his fists, his voice, and his integrity, Ali set out to prove that Black was beautiful; that Blacks could do without whites; that when whites stole his championship belt they did not take his identity; and that he would take it back and keep it as a Black warrior, not as a sell out to his race.
Every living being was born to accomplish a certain purpose, said the young Cassius Clay, and it is the knowing of the purpose that enables every soul to fulfill it. Even when past his boxing prime, Ali's continued to fight. His championship victories against younger, stronger opponents, writes Myers, came from his inner conviction that he was fighting for all Blacks against white supremacy, even when that opponent was a Black. That was his purpose in life.
This is the kind of book that makes mature people nervous and should make young people angry. History in older minds tends to be a benign force that lightly brushes away past wrong doing, rather than a call to remember and challenge evil with the passion of youth. Myers recalls Ali as warrior against injustice; he offers young people, of all races, a chance to use Ali's strength as an inspiration to fight a good fight for the causes they believe in.
[Editor's Note: Ian remarked that, if a four star plus rating were possible, he would have applied it to this work.]
Ian Stewart is a regular contributor to CM and the book review pages of the Winnipeg Free Press.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.