View profile

This week in history: ‘Don’t call me Cassius Clay’ + Capone's birthday shooting

Welcome to the “This week in history” newsletter! Every Saturday we take a break from recapping the d
Chicago Sun-Times Afternoon Edition
Welcome to the “This week in history” newsletter! Every Saturday we take a break from recapping the day’s news to bring you a deep dive into Chicago’s singed, heroic and occasionally merry history. For more historic photos, follow us at @CSTphotovault on Facebook and Instagram.
— Alison Martin (@miss_alison_m, follow for extra history plus rants and dogs throughout the week)

This week in history: ‘Don’t call me Cassius Clay’
Muhammad Ali greets a crowd outside the Senate Theater on July 24, 1967. "The Greatest," born Jan. 17, participated in a ceremony to donate items to starving families in Mississippi. | Photo by Pete Peters/Chicago Sun-Times
Muhammad Ali greets a crowd outside the Senate Theater on July 24, 1967. "The Greatest," born Jan. 17, participated in a ceremony to donate items to starving families in Mississippi. | Photo by Pete Peters/Chicago Sun-Times
As published in the Chicago Daily News, sister publication of the Chicago Sun-Times:
“Don’t call me Cassius Clay. My name is Muhammad Ali. It is a beautiful Arabic name. Don’t call me Cassius Clay anymore. I am Muhammad Ali, the heavy-weight champion of the whole world.”
Muhammad Ali made those remarks in March of 1964, one week after he asked a Chicago Daily News reporter to refer to him by his new name, a request that reporter Stuart Awbrey did not oblige.
No other celebrity in the 1960s attracted more admiration, hatred or controversy than Ali. “The Greatest,” as he called himself, was born on Jan. 17 in Louisville, Kentucky, but he spent a great amount of time in Chicago during a tumultuous period in his life when he changed his name and later faced a trial for draft dodging.
The March 14, 1964 edition of the Chicago Daily News marked the first time Ali addressed his new name as he arrived at O’Hare Airport on a flight from Louisville. He’d been world champion for just 19 days, Awbrey wrote, and he came to the city seeking the “‘knowledge, wisdom and understanding’ as a ‘little humble follower’ of Elijah Muhammad.”
Want more on “The Greatest”? Read the full story here or check out Richard Roeper’s review for the new Amazon movie, “One Night in Miami,” which centers around a gathering of four legends: Sam Cooke, Malcolm X, Jim Brown and Ali.
Chicago's most wanted
Attorney William F. Waugh of the American Legion, right, talking with Al Capone, center, in Chicago in March 1929. | From the Sun-Times archive.
Attorney William F. Waugh of the American Legion, right, talking with Al Capone, center, in Chicago in March 1929. | From the Sun-Times archive.
Al Capone’s 25th birthday was almost his last.
Just days before Jan. 17, 1925 — what would’ve been the gangster’s 26th birthday — a gunman shot chauffeur Lester Martin as he was driving two waiters home in Scarface’s expensive car. Those “in the know” told a Chicago Daily News reporter that the bullets were almost certainly meant for Capone himself, “possibly as an aftermath of the killing of Dion O'Banion,” a mobster who was Capone’s main rival at the time.
On the night of Jan. 12, the Capone house on 7244 South Prairie Avenue buzzed as the gangster threw a party in Mrs. Capone’s honor, the paper reported. As Martin drove along Garfield Boulevard, a “touring car pulled up alongside” and tried to push Martin’s vehicle toward the curb. Just as the chauffeur turned, a bullet hit his back.
“Charles Shicettl, 1841 Indiana Avenue, and Perry Hailer, his roommate, have been waiters in racy cabarets long enough to know what to do. They flopped to the floor of the car and lay there.”
No one reported much to the 50th street police, the reporter noted. Witnesses saw the shooter’s car head south, and Martin was taken to the hospital “as mum as a dead man.” It wasn’t until police questioned Capone himself that the waiters offered up anything of use.
It’s fascinating how much reporters knew about Capone and O'Banion’s history — their once-profitable working relationship, their falling out and O'Banion’s murder. Once allies both working for mobster Johnny Torrio, the North Sider demanded a bigger cut of profits.
“Capone was taking in from protected gambling joints in Cicero,” the paper said. For his greed and break with the South Siders, Capone ordered the hit on O'Banion on Nov. 10, 1924.
“Even while O'Banion was being buried like a king, with Capone among the mourners, it was predicted by the inside few that ‘Scarface’ would be next,” the Daily News reporter wrote.
For more on Capone, check out Jonathan Eig’s “Get Capone” or “Al Capone: His Life, Legacy, and Legend” by Deidre Bair (read an interview with her about how she managed to interview some of Capone’s relatives here). If you’ve ever wondered what Capone sounded like, listen here (spoiler: it’s exactly what you’d expect).

The stacks
When President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed Robert Clifton Weaver to become the first secretary of the newly created U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Weaver also became the first Black member of the Cabinet of the United States.
At the time, Weaver — named to his post on Jan. 18, 1965 — was considered to be the foremost expert on housing in the country.
He worked in Chicago as the director of the Mayor’s Committee on Race Relations in 1944 and spoke to a Chicago Daily News reporter in September of that year about the problems of overcrowding in the city’s Black community.
The reporter’s article described the difficulties facing Black residents who were living in churches, converted public garages and storefronts “because they can find no other dwelling places.”
The proprietor of a mattress and upholstery renovating plant on the South Side told the reporter that 12 Black families had been renting cubicles in the storefront of his building. “I took them because their furniture was on the street and they said they couldn’t find a roof,” the proprietor said. 
“I told them I’d fix the place over for them for the emergency,” he continued. “The understanding was that they could stay while they looked for something permanent. That was about three months ago. Now they tell me they have looked high and low and can’t find a thing. I’ll have to put them out. I hate it, but it’s the only way to keep my establishment.”
The owner said five or six of the people living in his storefront were war workers who had been turned out of apartments on Damen Avenue “in an area unaccustomed to Negros, where tensions had arisen.”
War workers, Weaver explained, had historically struggled to find adequate housing, and since more Black residents now turned to war work, the housing crisis intensified.
The final quote of the article took aim at myths that Black residents depreciated home values and were unable to care for their properties as well as white residents. Though the quote is uncredited, it likely came from Weaver as it was echoed in his 1948 book, “The Negro Ghetto”:
“The assumption that the value of areas depreciates when they are occupied by Negros is a sheer superstition. This can be proved. Income from rentals paid by Negros is even higher than that paid by white tenants as long as there is a shortage of Negros housing.
"And there is no reason to assume that the Negro can’t maintain residential premise as well as the white person can. This has been demonstrated in both private and public housing projects; property is kept up provided there is no overcrowding and provided the landlord takes the same care as the tenant does.”
Weaver didn’t stay too long in Chicago. Originally born in D.C., he moved to the Windy City in 1944 and left in 1948. But given the content of his book, it seems he learned a lot about housing equality here.
You can rent Weaver’s book online through the Internet Archive or the Chicago Public Library.
Talk of the town
The U.S. Supreme Court handed down one of its most controversial opinions on Jan. 22, 1973: the decision to legalize abortions nationwide.
In Chicago, one Sun-Times story and accompanying editorial, published not even a year before the opinion came down, demonstrated that abortions still happened illegally in the state — and further emphasized the difference between the haves and have nots.
On May 5, 1972, Chicago police raided an illegal abortion clinic run out of a South Shore apartment, arresting seven women in the process. They were part of a women’s liberation group, police told the Sun-Times, and none of them were licensed physicians, though they said they had been trained by one.
At the time of the raid, seven procedures were underway, and three more women sat waiting for their appointments, police said.
Abortions in the three-room apartment cost $100 (or $626 in 2021 when adjusted for inflation), but police didn’t consider financial gain as a motive: “The going rate for the least expensive, out-of-state abortion is about $250, including the cost of transportation, according to Planned Parenthood officials,” the paper said. For those wondering, $250 in 1972 would be $1,564.99.
Over on the opinion pages, the Sun-Times Editorial Board told readers, “No one is helped and nothing of value to society or anything individual is accomplished by treating abortion as a crime.”
The editorial board further argued that women of means simply traveled to states where abortions were legal, while “women without means, on the other hand, face the choice of continuing an unwanted pregnancy or seeking services of an outlaw abortionist.”
In referencing the three women waiting at the clinic, the board wrote that “such situations would not exist were the laws reformed so that women could obtain legal abortions in approved medical facilities.”
The board urged courts and elected officials to “act on the reality that abortion should be a matter between a woman and her doctor, nothing more.” Eight months later, the Supreme Court did just that.
Chicago Magazine has a great article on what happened to those seven women who were arrested. Check it out here.
Thanks for reading! Want to share your thoughts? Your favorite moment in Chicago history? Your complaints? Send them to amartin@suntimes.com.
Did you enjoy this issue?
Chicago Sun-Times Afternoon Edition

Chicago's most important news of the day, delivered every weekday afternoon. Plus, a bonus issue on Saturdays that dives into the city's storied history.

If you don't want these updates anymore, please unsubscribe here.
If you were forwarded this newsletter and you like it, you can subscribe here.
Manage all your newsletter subscriptions here.
Powered by Revue
30 N Racine Ave. Suite 300, Chicago, IL 60607