It is certainly unfair to suggest that two hearts were beating in the chest of Muhammad Ali. Throughout his life, even when illness decimated his faculties, Ali seemed to be one; THE ONE he would have said. So why suggest that both Cassius Clay and Muhammad Ali have died? Perhaps in order remember that with the man dies the boy, but particularly in order to remember that Cassius made Ali. Even if Ali was always one, the Ali we knew grew irrepressibly from the life of Cassius Clay. Changing the name was for Ali a renaissance, and it became part of a rebirth of the dialogue on race relations, now in a far more assertive mode. Yet, Muhammad Ali was more than a catalyst of race discussions. He became a forger of the spirit of the times, not just a prism as some will have it. Ali forced us to face our prejudices in so many ways.
Cassius Clay is in some respects a proud name, the Roman Cassius and the alliteration with Clay. The snap of the four syllables.The name may have had its roots in white injustice, a slave name he said, but it also heralded the proud, upright stance of a self-possesed human being. In a sense it heralded the conversion to Muhammad Ali.
But Cassius Clay is also the name of a fighter, where Muhammad Ali signals spirit above fists. Ali was a great boxer, there is no doubt, but what conquered Sonny Liston, Joe Frazier and George Foreman was the spirit not the fists. Muhammad Ali taught us a lesson by this, a lesson of humanity. What he taught us was that god-given ability should be driven by spirit – and only comes into its own when spirit is the animator. He also taught us to be upright, to be proud and to accept the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune as they come.
Cassius Clay was the greatest, Muhammad Ali even greater! Muhammad Ali had flaws, of course, many wrongheaded opinions, but he was never slave, always free! He showed us what being human means – what it can mean, what it should mean!
So adieu, you Ali being born of Cassius. We praise you for your indomitable soul, for your inspiration, for a life well lived!