On a sultry summer day in 1966, the Greatest and the Godfather Of Soul shared the spotlight in the Bud Billiken parade.
When Muhammad Ali and James Brown rode in the South Side’s Bud Billiken Parade in August 1966, the 24-year-old heavyweight champion fighter had recently changed his name from Cassius Clay, Jr., and had earned only the first of his three titles; Brown, meanwhile, was at the peak of his career, riding high on the January release of “I Got You (I Feel Good)”. As the pair walked out of the original Chicago Defender building in Bronzeville before the parade, Ali remarked to Brown, “‘Quit writing love letters and let’s go,’” recalls Marc Sengstacke, the executive director of Chicago Defender Charities, who was 11 at the time and with his father Frederick, the newspaper’s production manager. “Everyone laughed.”
More than 300,000 lined what is now Martin Luther King Drive for the back-to-school parade, which included the Roosevelt High School marching band, politicians, plush Flintstones characters, and a bikini-clad woman on a float touting Dad’s Root Beer. Walking along the route taking photographs, Sengstacke’s cousin Bobby spotted the red ’65 Cadillac with Brown and Ali. “They were waving to the crowd,” Bobby says. “I took three shots of the Godfather and the Greatest, and one of them came out,” adds the photographer, who also captured on film the 1959 meeting between Fidel Castro and Joe Louis in Cuba. “I’ve always gotten a lot of great shots of the parade, but this was my greatest.”