The Time Muhammad Ali Two-Pieced Superman

As a 14-year-old Black boy in the Bronx, I knew anything was possible once I read that comic book

Thaddeus Howze


Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Bugner, Kuala Lumpur, July 5, 1975. Photo: Central Press/Getty Images

I’I’m not going to bore you with Muhammad Ali’s legendary exploits, because for decades, journalists have regaled his every documented breath, his defiance of systemic oppression, and his magnetic belief in his abilities. Instead, I’ll share the perspective of a young Black boy in the Bronx during the ’70s, trying to find his place in the world when Ali came on the scene.

He was the first Black man I had ever seen get up on television and declare that he was “The Greatest.” There wasn’t a caveat in his inflection. There wasn’t a touch of mockery, only the crystal clear belief in his self-worth and ability. Until that moment, I didn’t know such self-assuredness was allowed.

When I was growing up, Ali was the hero my friends and I aspired to become. The man, the conviction, and the willingness to go to jail for his beliefs and to sacrifice everything for his principles made him as legendary as Superman — with the added benefit of being real enough to touch. His was the name chanted in the barbershop while I waited to get my hair cut, the older men speaking with a reverence reserved for religious figures. His was the name spoken at the doors of the church before we…