Cassius Clay, grandson of a slave, grew up in Louisville, KY and went to King Solomon Missionary Baptist Church where his father was a longtime member. Clay attended the church occasionally even after he became a Muslim following his winning the world heavyweight boxing championship at 22. After his conversion to the Nation of Islam, Clay renounced his “slave” name and the cult leader, radical racist Elijah Muhammad, gave Cassius his new name–Muhammad Ali.
While in Chicago, Cassius came under the influence of Malcolm X who encouraged him to join the Black Muslim cult. The cult, which promotes segregation, is known for its hatred of Jews and all white people; however, the group does emphasize family, hard work, and personal morality. Cassius broke with Malcolm when Malcolm broke with the Black Muslims after a trip to Mecca.
The cult leader, Elijah Muhammad, was an angry, hostile man who despised anything associated with Christ. He declared that Christianity was the cause of the black man’s problems and ridiculed Christ’s teaching of loving your enemy. Elijah was a hawker of hate with whom Ali was connected “hip and thigh.
The present longtime leader of the Nation of Islam Louis Farrakhan is an infamous race baiter. Clay, to his credit, chastened Louis at a Fourth of July celebration in Washington for an ongoing series of threats and insults against Jews. In the 1970s, Ali converted to Sunni Islam, the largest denomination among Muslims worldwide. He was now a little more “respectable.
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The Rev. Wanda McIntyre, who led the early service at the King Solomon church last Sunday stated, “It doesn’t matter if you’re a Muslim, a Christian, or a Jew. When you believe in God, you should believe that all people are part of one family.” That is very gracious but untrue. It is ecumenical but false. Not sure if that is an indication of the spiritual condition of some black Baptist Churches or the individual ravings of an overwrought lady. For sure, a female preacher in a Baptist Church until recent days is almost as unusual as finding a principled politician in Washington.
In the 1960s and 1970s, I thought that Cassius Clay, aka Muhammad Ali was “the greatest.” While I never thought it was very sporting to try to beat the brains out of a man, I must admit that I was intrigued with Ali. He knew exactly what he was doing as he boasted about what he would do to his opponent. He often even prophesized in rhyme the round in which he would defeat his opponent. No question in my mind that he was the greatest boxer of all time and one of the best entertainers of all time. He brought boxing back to life.
But it seems hero worshippers are rushing all over each other to heap accolades upon him. Promoter Bob Arum told the AP Saturday. “He’s the most transforming figure of my time certainly. He did more to change race relations and the views of people than even Martin Luther King.” Well, that was a hyperbolic statement. Millions of Americans hated his conversion to Islam and his refusal to be drafted into the military during the Vietnam era. Even The New York Times refused to use his new name for years but even with all the criticisms Ali made an impact on the world.
His death is lamented by people worldwide and his courage in fighting Parkinson’s is applauded. Moreover, his efforts during his later years to civic service was exemplary. However, the rush of adulation and public mourning is somewhat excessive and almost all have been very selective in telling his story. After all, black heroes can’t have a dark side.
At one time Ali was classified by the military as Class 1-Y since two IQ tests revealed his IQ to be 78–well below the required level to be called unless during a national emergency. When this was revealed, Ali said, “I said I was the greatest, not the smartest.” I think he was smarter than most people thought.
While thousands of young men died in the rice paddies of Viet Nam, Ali refused to serve his country that had provided him the opportunity to become “the greatest.” He was convicted of draft evasion but the case was later overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. However, he was stripped of his World Championship title, fined $10,000, and forbidden to box for almost four years.
Ali said, “Man, I ain’t got no quarrel with them Vietcong. Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go ten thousand miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?” Wow! I never saw Louisville like that but then I’m not black.
In a press conference articulating his opposition to the Vietnam War, Ali declared, “My enemy is the white people, not the Vietcong!” Well, that sounds racist to me. In relation to integration, he said: “We who follow the teachings of Elijah Muhammad [who spent four years in prison for refusing the draft during WWII] don’t want to be forced to integrate. Integration is wrong. We don’t want to live with the white man; that’s all.” And in relation to interracial marriage: “No intelligent black man or black woman in his or her right black mind wants white boys and white girls coming to their homes to marry their black sons and daughters.” I haven’t heard that quote this week.
On a British television show, I heard Ali say that blue birds fly together; red birds fly together, buzzards fly together. And Blacks are more comfortable with other blacks. The British interviewer was almost speechless. Indeed, Ali’s religious beliefs at the time included the notion that the white man was “the devil.” But you won’t hear about any of this during this week.
At Howard University, he gave his popular “Black Is Best” speech to 4,000 cheering students and community leaders, on behalf of the Black Power Committee, a student protest group. “The draft,” he said, “is about white people sending black people to fight yellow people to protect the country they stole from red people.” No, it was about keeping millions of “yellow people” from being enslaved by Communist “yellow people” from the north.
Another time, he declared, “I will not go 10,000 miles from here to help murder and kill another poor people simply to continue the domination of white slave masters over the darker people of the earth.” Almost everyone praised Ali’s “courage” for refusing to fight for his country (or serve as a non-combatant) suggesting that he was a very principled man; however, few are willing to discuss his lack of self-discipline when it came to sexual affairs.
The London Daily Mail bravely opined, “when it came to his private life his morals were those of an alley cat. The way he treated his first three wives and neglected some of his nine (known) children was frankly disgraceful.” Look for a group of Ali’s “love” children to come out of the woodwork in the following days.
Ali has nine children by four different wives and two other relationships and his family is already fighting over the loot that was left. Muhammad’s ex-wife Khalilah reportedly claimed that the champ’s brother Rahman, and son Muhammad, Jr., are accusing Ali’s widow Lonnie of cutting them out of his will. Ali’s son (along with his wife and two children) has been estranged from him and the family and is living in a Chicago garret but his future looks brighter. There is an $80 million pie in the oven as members of the Clay clan assert their claim to a piece of the pie.
Few blacks are talking about Ali’s support of Ronald Reagan in 1984 and his attendance at the Republican National Convention! Of course, Ali was in a huge tax bracket and Reagan promised, preached, and promoted big tax cuts! This support for Republicans caused Andrew Young, Ambassador to the U.N. under Jimmy Carter, Julian Bond and others nightly heartburn.
Muhammed Ali, born Cassius Clay, was an incredible athlete; however, he was a very flawed individual with occasional indications of courage and commitment, but not much character. His color only matters to the racists.
Boys’ new book, Evolution: Fact, Fraud, or Faith? was published recently by BarbWire Books; to get your copy of Evolution: Fact, Fraud, or Faith? click here. An eBook edition is also available.
The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.