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In the segregated South where the brothers Young grew up, the YMCA was much more than a place to work out. With restaurants, hotels, auditoriums, and convention centers off-limits to blacks, the Y—which was not integrated until 1963—served as a gathering place for meetings, concerts, and educational programs.
The notion that Muhammad Ali—a conscientious objector who was a member of the Nation of Islam—would make his comeback in the deep South at the height of the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War seemed laugh-out-loud ridiculous. But thanks to one fortuitous telephone call to a local businessman—and the political savvy of State Senator Leroy Johnson—Atlanta stunned the world by granting Ali a boxing license and playing host to his return on October 26, 1970.