Tom Sorensen

‘Cassius Clay’ takes us back to the ’50s. Here’s what should have been left behind.

In this May 25, 1965, file photo, Muhammad Ali stands over Sonny Liston after knocking him down during their heavyweight championship bout in Lewiston, Maine. This rematch was Ali’s first fight after changing his name from Cassius Clay.
In this May 25, 1965, file photo, Muhammad Ali stands over Sonny Liston after knocking him down during their heavyweight championship bout in Lewiston, Maine. This rematch was Ali’s first fight after changing his name from Cassius Clay. AP

Saw “And in This Corner: Cassius Clay” at ImaginOn. It’s a Children’s Theatre of Charlotte production and it is potent, and timely. The story examines the pre-Muhammad Ali Clay. We see him discover his shiny bicycle has been stolen. We see him go to the boxing gym so, if he catches the thief, he can do something about it.

Clay learns the fundamentals and learns he has a gift. And we got to watch as he and his opponents discover it. We see him only as an amateur.

Ali is my favorite athlete of all time, and they had me at Cassius. But I recommend this even if you’re not a fan of boxing.

Clay grew up in Louisville in the Jim Crow 1950s. Race pervaded what he could do, where he could go and even what he could be. He learns that this applies even to those that wear an Olympic gold medal around their neck.

The segregated 1950s ought to feel like an alien planet to those that grow up in 2018.

Unfortunately, that’s not true. Maybe someday it will be.

And “In This Corner: Cassius Clay” runs through Feb. 18 at the McColl Family Theatre at ImaginOn.

Tom Sorensen is a retired Charlotte Observer columnist. Sign up for his newsletter, and follow him on Twitter: @tomsorensen

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