On February 27th, 1943, as the Chicago Defender went to press, writer Langston Hughes had found a literary friend – Jesse B. Semple, whom he fondly called “Simple.” Hughes first met Simple – his prototype, that is – in a Harlem bar. The man invited Hughes to join him and his girlfriend Mary, at their table and struck up what Hughes would later title, a “Conversation at Midnight.” It was a rambling, rather useless chat about making cranks in a defense factory. In it was a quirky undertow of philosophy that pulled the evening along. The man did not know what the cranks he made were used for. Mary thought he ought to. The man protested that White folks never told Blacks those kinds of things. “I dont crank with those cranks. I just make ’em.” As their banter went on, an exasperated Mary countered, “You sound right simple.” And the rest, to the delight of Hughes’ readers, was history – twenty-three years of Simple Speaks His Mind.
When Cassius Clay took up boxing as a four foot eighty-seven pound Kentucky Kid, he was determined to change his fate. He wanted to stop bigger boys from taking his bicycle. Now, on February 26, 1964 his first day as The Heavy Weight Boxing Champion of The World, no one doubted his ability to fight. but he would soon face opponents he could never have anticipated. On that day, he announced, “I believe in the religion of Islam. I believe in Allah and peace… I’m not a Christian anymore.” With that, Cassius Clay became Muhammad Ali and quickly faced new bouts in the courts of law and public opinion; from the sports establishment to his draft board and the Supreme Court.