(1810 - 1903)
A number of years ago an excellent miniseries, "Roots," jolted our senses as it examined the hotly controversial issue of slavery and man's inhumanity to man.It stirred a Pandora's box of emotions within us . . . some deeply hidden . . . and forced us to deal with them in the glaring light of reality. "Roots" became one of the most successful and heralded productions of our time.
Young Cassius Clay
This is the rest of the story.Cassius Marcellus Clay was a mass of contradictions.On one hand he was a brawling, idealist yet on the other he was a poet and a towering intellectual, steadfastly unwavering and courageous in his ideals . . . and like all heroes, he was in the right place at the right time . . . and he changed the course of history!
Cassius Marcellus Clay . . . MADMAN OR PROPHET?The heirs of those Southern aristocrats who owned slaves have heard the story passed down from their forefathers that Clay was nothing more than a madman hellbent on destroying their Southern lifestyle, his family, and the Union.No, Clay, wasn't perfect, nor was he a prophet in the true sense of the word.He had his faults, including that of being a pragmatists.There are those who will find some of his statements offensive.Statements like, "For better or worse, the black people are among us . . . we must educate them, for one day they will be a part of our governing society . . . ."
This, however, was a very bold statement in its day and one that was not taken well by the social elite, who owned slaves.Cassius Clay, was a highly educated yet extremely sensitive intellectual white man who happened to grow up with a black slave as his very best friend.He taught George how to play chess and he was sincere in his beliefs that blacks could and should be educated, even at a college level.He knew that slavery was immoral and against God's commandments, but he was also shrewd enough to realize that telling the rich plantation owners that they were sinners wasn't going to help change anything.Instead, he evolved a plan which would put an end to slavery and give the black man the opportunity to be educated.He determined that the first step was to use his wealth and social position to get himself elected to the Kentucky legislature, which he did before he was 25 years old.
His strategy accepted the fact that he could never get the 7% of the southern population that owned slaves to change their minds and directed his energies instead to the 93% of the white working people that were "poor white trash" as a result of having to compete with this almost free slave labor.The white working class was in bondage to slavery just like the blacks and Clay knew that as voters they had the power to put an end to this ugly disease stifling the South.
By using his newspaper, "The True American," Cash sought to inform this vast majority of the population of the terrible financial burdens they were suffering due to having to compete with slave labor. Using logic, reasoning, and financial issues as his weapons, Clay made great strides against incalculable odds.Long before the Civil War started he had already caused laws to be passed in his home state of Kentucky which placed a moratorium on any new slave being brought into the state and prohibited further transfers or trading outside the state.
Yes, Cassius Clay used his intellect, his wealth, and his influence to sell a nation on the concept that slavery was not only economic suicide, but against God's commandments and morally wrong.To his rich neighbors and detractors he was indeed a "lunatic," traitor," and a "madman," and they sought every opportunity to silence his fiery mind.
Clay was the almost constant target of attack including assination attempts upon himself and kidnapping attempts upon his children.One of his youngsters, his namesake, Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr. was fatally poisoned in an effort to coerce Cash into silence. Clay, a man who made it known in writing that he would die before he would compromise his conscience, would not be silenced!
It is a known fact that Cash Clay gave money and land to a Reverend James Fee to build a home, church and a school which ultimately grew into Berea College (the first interracial college in America).There is also no doubt that Cash's speeches in N.Y. churches (where he drew the biggest crowd ever assembled at that time) and throughout the rest of the northern states did influence legislation creating 965 brand new elementary schools and even universities such as Howard, Atlanta, Hampton and Fisk, all for the 97% of the freed blacks which were so illiterate they could not even sign their name and made their "mark" usually with an X.
As we examine Clay's life and the era in which he lived we can only wonder at the state of our nation today had he not existed.
Consider . . .
He set his own slaves free long before the Civil War was even considered. He helped to establish the first interracial college in the nation. Published "The True American" to stir the ire, conscience and vote of the white working class. Was nominated for President by acclamation at the Convention and deferred to Lincoln. He drew record crowds to speak on Lincoln's behalf. He gave Lincoln critically needed financial support. Through Mary Todd was Lincoln's most trusted advisor. Helped Lincoln draft the Emancipation Proclamation. Should have been Vice President or Secretary of War, but instead became our Ambassador to Russia. Initiated and consummated the purchase of Alaska, no money down and interest only. For this he got the Russian Navy to anchor ships in our harbors warning Europe to stay out of our war!
This and more did the man accomplish, but Cassius Clay will not be without critics.Bigotry takes many forms, and we must examine all aspects of it . . . even those which can blind a people to the truth that they cannot see a hero before their very eyes.Lexington's town gossips found Clay a favorite target.Their tongues were wagging constantly over Cash's romantic escapades.Standing six foot three with a muscular build and rugged but handsome good looks, Cash couldn't help it if women found him attractive . . . After all; the "Kentucky Lion" was one of the wealthiest young men in America.
Even Mary Todd (Lincoln) had a schoolgirl crush on him and, "If Mary Jane Warfield hadn't of married him before I grew up," (she said), "I would have!"
Of course the rumors about Cash's infidelities weren't completely unfounded, but most people agree that Cash's affair with Anna Marie, the statuesque Russian ballerina, never would have happened if Mary Jane hadn't found the Russian winters too cold for her liking, leaving him alone for several years while she went back home to be with her socialite friends in Lexington.
Black supremists will label him a bigot, accusing him of making statements which belittled the black man.Others will say he was a savior of the black people and that he held views that were years ahead of his time.They will declare him a prophet.His namesake, who later changed his religion and his name to Muhammad Ali, rejects the very thought of any possible connection to Clay, saying, If there is any white blood in me it's because some white man raped a black slave woman."In reality, Muhammad Ali's Christian father was given the name because Cash freed his great grandfather.
When he was in his seventies he had a romantic involvement with a young woman in her mid twenties.Later, when he was in his eighties, he married his sixteen year old servant, and once again the neighbor's suspicions of this "madman" were reconfirmed as were his ex-wife's who sought a court order to remove him from the three story "Whitehall" mansion and have him placed in a mental institution.
A prominent journalist vindicated him, however; when assigned to cover the story by an eastern newspaper who no doubt felt that they were onto a juicy scandal.
The young newspaper writer who later became one of Kentucky's leading novelists made the following observation:"I came to Richmond expecting to find a deranged old man holding a teenage girl captive against her will . . . what I found instead were two people very much in love with one another . . . the only thing I know for sure is that I no longer have the fear of growing old" . . . virile, romantic, macho, charming, intelligent, sensitive, caring, and courageous . . . these are the things that Cash Clay was guilty of.
MADMAN? . . . PROPHET? . . .NO!
Cassius Clay just never really grew old . . . at the age of nearly ninety-three he overcame four men who broke into his mansion to rob and no doubt murder him.Instead, one of them fell victim to his pistol and another to his 19" Bowie knife and one more just barely managed to escape on horseback leaving a trail of blood behind him as he rode away.
A hero?. . . Yes!But only to the millions of slaves and poor white working people that he helped free from the scourge of slavery.To the vengeful white aristocrats and even members of his own family that never forgave him from taking away their low-cost, slave labor, he was hated forever.This proved to be a major contributing factor to obscuring his place in history as his own family burned his books and other writings in an effort to silence him forever.
This movie series or television miniseries will change that!
Dr. Martin Luther Kings's dream was that some day the ancestors of slave owners and slaves alike would sit together at a table and enjoy our many blessings.If Martin Luther King and Cassius Clay had lived in the same century that they would have been great friends, for each was willing and ready to die for what they believed in.
If we believe in the dreams of men like Dr. Martin Luther King and Cassius Clay, the whole story must be told.
There is no doubt that a movie or television series based on the life of Cassius Clay will generate controversy that will be heard around the world for many years to come . . . probably beyond our lifetime.
That is the goal!
. . . Nowis the time to tell the rest of the story!
Cassius Clay, the six-foot, three-inch, two-hundred and thirty pound, white man that Muhammed Ali and his father were named after, because he freed Muhammed Ali's Great-Great Grandfather...and because he did so much to put an end to slavery.
.... A replica of a marble bust of C. M. Clay done by sculptor Joel T. Hart