The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

Cassius Clay Transformed Into Muhammad Ali On Chicago's South Side

By Mae Rice in News on Jun 6, 2016 5:39PM

A 1963 shot of Muhammad Ali, then known as Cassius Clay (Photo by Kent Gavin/Keystone/Getty Images)

Muhammad Ali died at 74 on Friday, near Phoenix—but his Muhammad Ali identity had its roots in Chicago. The legendary boxer, born Cassius Clay, became Muhammad Ali on the South Side, where he moved in the mid-1960s. The move came just after he converted to Islam and was exiled from boxing superstardom for refusing to fight in the Vietnam War. He proceeded to spend about ten years living here on and off, an era documented in a film from Chicago's Kartemquin Films, The Trials of Muhammad Ali.

Though Ali boxed during this time—the Sun-Times reports he would box whoever was around at a 63rd Street boxing gym—but boxing wasn't his main focus at this time. As The Trial's of Muhammad Ali's director, Bill Siegel, told Chicagoist in 2013, Ali actually took on speaking engagements during this time to make ends meet. He also immersed himself in studying Islam; the Tribune reports that at one point, Ali lived just down the street from Elijah Muhammad, a leader within the Nation of Islam.

While in Chicago, Ali met his second wife, Chicago native Khalilah Camacho-Ali. They met when she was a waitress at the Nation of Islam Bakery, and she married him in 1967, the Tribune reports. "The most crucial time of his life was in Chicago," she told the Tribune, explaining that he was not only fielding charges of draft dodging and learning about Islam here—he was also watching the civil rights movement unfold around him, and learning about racism and its impact on his life.

Ali's stint in Chicago had its light moments, too. He enjoyed vacationing in the Indiana Dunes and doing magic tricks for children, the Sun-Times reports. He also met fellow great, James Brown, in Chicago:

He also met up with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, then a college basketball player, in Chicago. Abdul-Jabbar has since written in Time that Ali was "[a] force of nature: gentle but unstoppable." Here they are together in a cute, hammy group shot:

Despite the tough financial straits that he faced in certain portions of his life here, Ali also at one point lived in a Hyde Park mansion—not unlike President Barack Obama.

Speaking of whom, the President and former Chicagoan issued a moving statement on Ali's death over the weekend. Obama wrote, in part:

In my private study, just off the Oval Office, I keep a pair of his gloves on display, just under that iconic photograph of him - the young champ, just 22 years old, roaring like a lion over a fallen Sonny Liston. I was too young when it was taken to understand who he was - still Cassius Clay, already an Olympic Gold Medal winner, yet to set out on a spiritual journey that would lead him to his Muslim faith, exile him at the peak of his power, and set the stage for his return to greatness with a name as familiar to the downtrodden in the slums of Southeast Asia and the villages of Africa as it was to cheering crowds in Madison Square Garden.

“I am America,” he once declared. “I am the part you won’t recognize. But get used to me - black, confident, cocky; my name, not yours; my religion, not yours; my goals, my own. Get used to me.”

Rest in peace, Ali.