Cassius Clay was born on this day in 1942. After winning a Gold Medal in the Olympics for the United States, he would turn professional and go on to become the Heavyweight Champion of the World. He changed his name to Muhammad Ali as part of his conversion to Islam. Ali would win the Heavyweight Title an unprecedented three times, most famously regaining the title in 1974, seven years after having his title stripped from him in 1967. When Ali was drafted for military service by the US government, likely for duty in Vietnam, Ali refused induction as a conscientious objector, citing his religious beliefs and his opposition to the Vietnam War. Ali famously told the world that “No, I am not going 10,000 miles to help murder, kill, and burn other people to simply help continue the domination of white slavemasters over dark people the world over. This is the day and age when such evil injustice must come to an end”
Ali was arrested and found guilty of draft evasion. Boxing authorities stripped him of his title and banned him from the sport for nearly 4 years. Although the Supreme Court eventually overturned his criminal conviction, he had lost his title and many years of his athletic prime. Remarkably, he fought his way back to the top, defeating George Forman in the legendary “Rumble in the Jungle” in 1974. After losing the title again in 1978 to Leon Spinks, Ali won the rematch to regain the Belt for an unprecedented third Heavyweight Boxing Title.
Ali is arguably the greatest athlete in history. In his prime, he was certainly the most famous and recognizable athlete in the entire world. Ali was a polarizing figure, as many hated him for his brash, self-aggrandizing demeanor and his outspoken religious and political statements. However, even more people loved him. To a generation of people all over the globe, Ali was a counter-cultural hero who represented the struggle against racism, against war and against the conservative authorities of the day.
The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was born on this day in 1929.
Dr. King was the leading figure of the Civil Rights Movement, as African-Americans struggled for freedom and equality in the United States. Dr. King was a brilliant orator and an inspirational leader. Dr. King was committed to the principals to non-violence, in part based on the example of Gandhi in India. He believed that the only path towards a peaceful resolution of the plight of black people in the United States was through non-violence, civil disobedience, and peaceful protest.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day is celebrated as a national holiday in the United States on the 3rd Monday of January.
South African author Alan Paton was born on this day in 1903. The author of Cry the Beloved Country used his novels as part of his lifelong fight against Apartheid in his homeland. He died in 1988, not able to live long enough to see the rise Nelson Mandela and the end of Apartheid just a few years later.
Nobel Laureate and former University of British Columbia Professor Har Gobind Khorana was born on this day in 1922. Khorana received the Nobel Prize in Physiology, along with his team, for their pioneering research and discoveries with DNA and unlocking our genetic code. He died in 2011.
Merry Christmas to Eastern Orthodox Christians in Canada and around the world who celebrate the birth of Christ on this day. The Orthodox Churches of Russia, the Ukraine and other parts of Eastern Europe continued to follow the Julian Calendar after most of the rest of the Christian world adopted the Gregorian calendar from the 16th century and onward. While most of the countries of Eastern Europe eventually adopted the western calendar for political and economic purposes, some have maintained the Julian Calendar for religious and cultural purposes.
Also known as King’s Day or Twelfth Night, Epiphany is a Christian celebration that traditionally brought a close to the Christmas Season. In the western Church, King’s Day commemorates the visit of the Magi, the “Wise-Men” or Kings of the East, to the infant Christ, God’s revelation of the Messiah to the Gentiles (non-Jews.) In bygone traditions, the “Twelve Days of Christmas” were marked from Christmas Day to Epiphany.
This holiday is not prominent in Canada, but is a significant event in many Catholic areas, including parts of the Europe, Central America and South America.
One of the most popular authors of the 20th Century, J.R.R. Tolkien was born to English parents in 1892 in Bloemfontein in the Orange Free State. The family moved back to Britain at age 3. He studied at Oxford and eventually taught there as well. He would go to author some of the English language’s most read books, including The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit and The Silmarillion. For more on Tolkien, click here.
Considered one of the giants of science fiction, Isaac Asimov was born on this day in 1920. His work and the work of other great sci-fi writers, film makers and game developers is celebrated on this day, unofficially International Science Fiction Day. (If you get the chance, visit the Sci-Fi Museum in Seattle!) For more on the life of Isaac Asimov, click here.