Notable Kentuckians: The 2 Cassius Clays

Muhammad Ali Cassius Clay Kentucky

A few years ago, I was flipping through cable channels when I came across a program description that alarmed me. A local television station was airing a documentary on Lexington’s White Hall, the historic home of famed 19th-century abolitionist Cassius Clay. The program description read: “The history of White Hall, former home of Muhammad Ali.”

Now, I’m not a huge history buff. But I know enough to know that White Hall was built more than a century before the legendary boxer was born in Louisville.

An editor somewhere failed to catch a problem we have in Kentucky – we have two famous Cassius Marcellus Clays.

Cassius Clay Lexington Kentucky

The first was born in 1810. He was a newspaper publisher, a naturalist, a politician who fought against slavery, and an orator (this is an occupation that no longer exists, but basically means he was a motivational speaker without the books and late-night infomercials). From 1861 to 1869, the first Cassius Clay was the U.S. minister to Russia under President Abraham Lincoln. And perhaps unfortunately more notably, he married a 15-year-old girl when he was 84.

The second was born in Louisville in 1942. This guy is a boxer. And not just any boxer, he is the self-proclaimed Greatest (and few can argue his point). He is a man of many accomplishments – Olympic champion, three-time heavyweight champion, and orator in his own right. This Cassius Clay changed his name in 1964 to Muhammad Ali to reflect his embrace of the Muslim faith. He retired from boxing in 1981, but remains one of the most famous people in the sport. Think: “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee …”

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