Chamblee54

The Night Muhammad Ali Fought In Atlanta

Posted in Georgia History, Library of Congress, Race, Undogegorized by chamblee54 on June 8, 2017

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Many have noted that Muhammad Ali lit the Olympic torch in 1996. Few seem to remember another Atlanta appearance from the former Cassius Clay. It happened October 26, 1970, at the Municipal Auditorium. To get to this point, lets borrow a few lines from a Courier-Journal Ali Timeline.

1960 – “Clay defeats Zbigniew Pietrzykowski of Poland on Sept. 5 to win the light-heavyweight boxing gold medal at the Olympics in Rome…”

1962 – “Clay hears Elijah Muhammad speak for the first time. He meets another Nation of Islam leader, Malcolm X, who becomes a friend and adviser. – On March 9, the military draft board classifies Clay 1-A, meaning he is fit and available to be called into the Army…”

1964 -” Because of a low score on the Army intelligence test, Clay is reclassified 1-Y, not qualified for military service, in January. “I said I was The Greatest,” he explains. “I never said I was the smartest.” – Clay scores a stunning seventh-round technical knockout over 7-1 favorite Sonny Liston on Feb. 25 at the Miami Convention Center, winning the world heavyweight championship at age 22. – In response to a reporter’s question the day after the fight, Clay confirms he is a member of the Nation of Islam, saying: “I believe in Allah and in peace. … I’m not a Christian anymore. … Followers of Allah are the sweetest people in the world. They don’t tote weapons. They pray five times a day.” – A rift grows between Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm X. Ali sides with Elijah, causing grief for Malcolm. – Casting off his “slave name,” Clay adopts the temporary name Cassius X. Later he announces that Elijah has bestowed on him the name Muhammad Ali. The name means “Praiseworthy One.”…”

1965 – “Ali knocks out Liston in the first round of their rematch, before only 4,280 fans in Lewiston, Maine, on May 25. Liston falls under a “phantom” punch that apparently few people see, giving rise to suspicions that he threw the fight. Former champion Joe Louis eventually declares Ali “unfit” to hold the title. – In October, former champion Floyd Patterson says: “Cassius Clay is disgracing himself and the Negro race.” On Nov. 22, Ali delivers a punishing defeat to Patterson, in part, he says, because Patterson refuses to call him Ali….”

1966 – “With the Vietnam War heating up, the Army lowers test-score standards, reclassifying Ali 1-A — fit for service. – “Man, I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong,” he says to reporters who call him at home in Miami. He later explains that “no Viet Cong ever called me nigger.” – Ali asks to be reclassified a conscientious objector to military service. A hearing officer sides with him, but the draft board keeps him 1-A, armed with a U.S. Justice Department opinion that Ali’s objections to military service are political not religious….”

1967 – “On April 28, Ali refuses induction into the Army in Houston.” “It is the light of my consciousness as a Muslim minister and my own personal convictions that I take my stand in rejecting the call to be inducted in the armed services,” Ali stated after refusing induction on April 28, 1967. “I have searched my conscience and I find I cannot be true to my belief in my religion by accepting such a call.” He was convicted of draft evasion on June 20, 1967. Ali was sentenced to five years in prison and fined $10,000, the maximum penalty for the offense. He remained free on a $5,000 bond while he appealed his conviction. Ali was also stripped of the World Heavyweight Championship by the New York State Athletic Commission and the World Boxing Association, systematically denied a boxing license in every state and stripped of his passport. “

For three and a half years, Mr. Ali was unable to fight in the ring. The WBA had a tournament, and installed their own champion. People tried to set up a fight for Mr. Ali, but were blocked by politicians, and state boxing authorities. California Governor Ronald Reagan said “That draft dodger will never fight in my state, period.” Then someone had the idea to have the fight in Atlanta.

Atlanta has never been a boxing town. There was no boxing commission. The Municipal Auditorium, the only venue that could host, was a dump. As Ring magazine tells the story: “So it was the height of irony that it was Atlanta, a city that occupied the heart of the Deep South, that provided the breakthrough. State Senator Leroy Johnson and Governor Lester Maddox helped pave the way for a most improbable return by persuading the City of Atlanta Athletic Commission to grant Ali a boxing license on Aug. 12, 1970. Shortly thereafter, it was announced Ali would fight Jerry Quarry on Oct. 26 at the City Auditorium in Atlanta. The bout was scheduled for 15 rounds, probably in recognition of Ali’s status as lineal heavyweight champion.” (Other sources say that Governor Maddox was opposed to hosting the fight, but was powerless to stop it.)

The opponent was Jerry Quarry, whose white skin was apparent that night. His obituary notes: :His most famous night was in Atlanta, Georgia, in October 1970, when he was the “fall-guy” for Ali’s comeback from his three- year exile. Quarry was stopped because of a badly cut eye in the third round. It brought him his biggest payday, $338,000. … By 1995 he was in the care of his brother James, and was suffering from severe pugilistic dementia.” Jerry Quarry died January 3, 1999.

The fight was not much of a contest. It lasted three rounds, before the referee stopped the match. Mr. Ali fought for ten more years, and regained the Heavyweight Championship twice. “On June 28, 1971, the Supreme Court unanimously overturns Ali’s 4-year-old draft conviction, saying that his claims as a conscientious objector were based on religion and were sincere.”

The fight was the occasion for a display of black pride, and black money. The New Yorker essayist George Plimpton remembered that invasion of the Harlem peacocks in their enormous purple Cadillacs: “I’d never seen crowds as fancy, especially the men – felt hatbands and feathered capes, and the stilted shoes, the heels like polished ebony, and many smoking stuff in odd meerschaum pipes.”

“The times reported that the bout was like “a page out of the roaring twenties. … The ladies had beads down to the hem of their maxi-skirts. One man wore an ankle length mink coat, with a high hat of mink to match. … Diana Ross sat in the forth row, ringside, with a bouffant, Afro-American hair-do that stretched out 10 inches on each side.” Many of those in attendance were invited to a party.

“Engraved invitations to one party in particular had been passed around to the hustlers in New York a week earlier and in Atlanta in the days leading up to the fight. The invitations announced that “Fireball” was throwing a party at 2819 Handy Drive, in Collier Heights.

The Handy Drive house happened to be one of several properties that “Chicken Man” Williams owned. He’d given a friend, an Atlantan-turned-New-Yorker known as “Fireball,” permission to use the house. He’d even helped build a craps table the week before so all the big-time gamblers who were sure to show up could “roll the bones.”

Williams’ girlfriend, Barbara Smith, skipped the fight to help prepare for the party. She and two girlfriends were busy in the kitchen when they heard the front door open. The fight was still going on, so Smith went to the front, expecting to meet an early bird. She was greeted by three men in ski masks standing in the hallway. All were armed; one was pointing a shotgun at her face. …

An estimated 80 to 200 people had arrived at the house expecting to party, only to be fleeced by masked men with shotguns. According to news accounts, the victims were led to the basement, then ordered to strip to their underwear, throw all their valuables in a pile and lay on the floor…

As more victims arrived, floor space in the basement became scarce, so the gunmen ordered the victims to lie on top of each other. Cash and jewelry was swept into pillowcases. That went on for hours as more and more people kept showing up. By 3 a.m., the half-naked victims were stacked like cordwood on top of each other.

Not one shot was fired. But as they left, the gunmen took Smith and one of her friends hostage and told everyone else to stay put. Three hours later, they dropped the women off on the other side of town and gave them $10 each for cab fare. By that time, the investigation was underway.

Creative Loafing has a terrific story about the party at Chicken Man’s house. If you have a few minutes, it is worth your time. Ditto for this newspaper story, in the sucky google books format.

A key person in the story is J.D. Hudson. One of the first eight black Atlanta policemen, Lt. Hudson was Mr. Ali’s bodyguard the night of the fight. Lt. Hudson wound up conducting the investigation of the party at Chicken Man’s house. Lt. Hudson met Gordon “Chicken Man” Williams, under rather unpleasant circumstances, in 1949.

Lt. Hudson never suspected Chicken Man of being part of the robbery. “From the time he took over the case, Hudson says, he knew Williams wasn’t responsible — even though other investigators already had pinned the crime on him. For one thing, Hudson could place Williams at the fight at the time the gunmen were at the house setting up the crime.

For another, Hudson says, “I knew [Williams] wasn’t dumb enough to pull a stunt like that. This was a man who ran [a] million-dollar operation from a pay phone on a street corner. He was smart. He could’ve run IBM or Coke. There’s no way he would’ve risked all that to pay somebody off. This was pulled off by a bunch of young thugs who were trying to knock over a party, and when they got there and saw how big it was, they improvised.”

Chicken Man went to prison in the seventies, and became a minister. He served as the Pastor of the Salem Baptist Church. Gordon Williams died December 6, 2014. J.D.Hudson died June 4, 2009. The men who robbed the party goers were killed a few months after the fight.

Pictures today are from The Library of Congress. This is a repost.

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