Historical Timeline

The man who views the world at 50 the same as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life. — Muhammad Ali

Labeled as the “Sportsman of the Century,” Muhammad Ali is an inspiration as both an athlete and activist for religious freedom and racial justice. The timeline below illustrates key moments in the both the life of Muhammad Ali as well as major events in the Civil Rights Movement. See how young Cassius Clay, amid the turmoil of the Civil Right Movement, went on to become the “Greatest of All Time.”


President Roosevelt sets up the Fair Employment Practices Commission to assure non-discrimination practices in Federal hiring.


Muhammad Ali was born as Cassius Clay on January 17th in Louisville, KY to Odessa and Cassius Marcellus Clay.

Rudy and Cassius

Clay’s brother Rudy is born. Rudy followed in his brother’s footsteps to become boxer, Rahman Ali.



After his bike is stolen, Clay begins training with police officer and boxing coach, Joe Martin. Six weeks later he wins his first fight against Ronnie O’Keefe.


Brown vs. Board of Education ends legal segregation in public schools.


Emmett Till

14 year old Emmett Till is murdered after allegedly flirting with a white woman.

Rosa Parks is arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white man sparking the yearlong Montgomery Bus Boycott.


Clay wins both the title in the Golden Gloves Tournament of Champions in Chicago and the national Amateur Athletic Union light-heavyweight title.

Clay graduates from High School, overcomes his fear of flying and wins a gold medal in the Rome Olympics against Polish fighter, Zbigniew Pietrzykowski.


Sports Illustrated Cover

Clay appears on the Cover of Sports Illustrated for the first time. During his career he has graced the cover 39 times.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivers his “I Have a Dream” speech to over 200,000 people gathered for the March on Washington.

16th Street Bombing Victims

The bombing of 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL by members of the Klu Klux Klan kills four girls and injures 22 others. While the event was not prosecuted until 1977 it did lead to the passage of the Civil Rights Act.


Cassius Clay defeats Sonny Liston winning the world heavyweight championship at age 22. He changes his name to Muhammad Ali.

The Civil Rights Act is passed outlawing discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin.

Despite violent opposition from local law enforcement, three separate marches from Selma to Montgomery, AL took place in support of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits racial discrimination in voting.

Ali is drafted to serve in Vietnam, but refuses to fight on religious grounds.

Ali is stripped of all titles, banned from boxing for three years and convicted of refusing induction into the Army. He is sentenced to five years in prison, but freed on bail after several appeals.

Thurgood Marshall becomes the first African-American Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of United States.

Loving vs. Virginia invalidates laws prohibiting interracial marriages.

Ali is ridiculed by the media, but Martin Luther King, Jr. comes to his defense, “He is giving up millions of dollars to do what his conscience tells him is right.”

King is assassinated, sparking unrest and civil disorder in 124 cities across the country.


Marvel Comics introduces Falcon, the first mainstream African-American superhero.


The Supreme Court rules in favor of Ali, overturning his previous conviction and enabling him to fight again. Publicly taunted with racial slurs by Joe Frazier, Ali challenges him in the ring. Billed as the “Fight of the Century”, Ali suffers his first defeat. Years later he would challenge Frazier again and win…twice.

Tom and Helen Willis - The Jeffersons

The Jeffersons premieres, featuring the first African-American interracial couple.


Ali’s youngest daughter Laila is born. In 2007 she retired from professional boxing undefeated.



Ali became a real superhero starring in the comic book Superman vs. Muhammad Ali.


Muhammad Ali retires from boxing with an overall record of 56 victories, 5 losses and 37 knockouts.

Guion Stewart Bluford, Jr.

Guion Stewart Bluford, Jr. becomes the first African-American astronaut.


Gwendolyn Brooks

Gwendolyn Brooks becomes becomes the first African-American Poet-Laureate.


Ali secures the release of fourteen American hostages held in Iraq during the Gulf War.

Douglas Wilder becomes the first African American to be elected as governor of any state in the US.


Race riots erupt in Los Angeles after a jury acquits four white police officers for the videotaped beating of Rodney King, an African American Taxi Driver.


Joycelyn Elders becomes the first African American appointed as Surgeon General of the United States.


Ali lights the Olympic flame in Atlanta, GA.


Ali is named a United Nations Messenger of Peace.

Colin Powell becomes the first African-American Secretary of State.


Ali is awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, for being “an inspirational figure to millions of people around the world.”



Barack Hussein Obama is elected as the first African-American President of the United States.


#Louisville Game Day! Go Cards!

A photo posted by Muhammad Ali (@muhammadali) on

Muhammad Ali posts his first selfie on Instagram.

The shooting death of 18 year old Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO sparks protests, riots and national debate about racial inequality in the United States.


Sports Illustrated Cover 2015

Sports Illustrated renames its legacy award for former athletes “who embody the ideals of sportsmanship, leadership and philanthropy as vehicles for changing the world” in honor of Muhammad Ali.

During a prayer service at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC, nine people were killed by a gunman hoping to ignite a race war.