Though Ali’s conversion to Islam was a defining moment for the former heavyweight boxing champion, it was his friendship with El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (aka Malcolm X) that played a major role in forming the champ’s views and who he was.
From Amazon about Blood Brothers: The Fatal Friendship Between Muhammad Ali and Malcolm:
“In 1962, boxing writers and fans considered Cassius Clay an obnoxious self-promoter, and few believed that he would become the heavyweight champion of the world. But Malcolm X, the most famous minister in the Nation of Islam—a sect many white Americans deemed a hate cult—saw the potential in Clay, not just for boxing greatness, but as a means of spreading the Nation’s message. The two became fast friends, keeping their interactions secret from the press for fear of jeopardizing Clay’s career. Clay began living a double life—a patriotic “good Negro” in public, and a radical reformer behind the scenes. Soon, however, their friendship would sour, with disastrous and far-reaching consequences.”
During Tuesday’s edition of NewsOne Now, Roland Martin talked with the authors of Blood Brothers, Randy Roberts and Johnny Smith, Ph.D, about what they described in the title of their book as Ali and Malcolm’s “fatal friendship.”
In speaking about “Blood Brothers,” Smith explained there are many books that chronicle the lives of other great boxers, but “There wasn’t a book that addressed how Cassius Clay became Muhammad Ali and the central role that Malcolm X played in his evolution.”
Randy Roberts described Ali’s transition to Islam as a man on the search for the truth, who kept “evolving throughout his life.”
“During the early part of his career when he was involved with Malcolm X, his managers — an all-White Louisville association — they saw what was going on and a couple times just got him out of the country.”
Roberts said Ali was “becoming toxic — too hot for them to handle, and they were afraid America was going to come down on him, so they just sent him over to Great Britain to fight Henry Cooper or some place like that.”
Roberts and Smith thoroughly reviewed FBI wiretaps and other documents to paint a true picture of the nature of the friendship between Ali and Malcolm.
Smith explained that despite being public figures, their friendship took place mostly in private. From the time they met in 1962 up until Ali’s fight with Sonny Liston in 1964, the press had no idea what was going on, but the FBI knew.
According to Smith, “The FBI had been following Malcolm, they had wiretapped his phone, there were informants in the Nation of Islam, and so there was an awareness from the federal government about Malcolm’s activities.”
As a result of the FBI’s surveillance of Malcolm, Cassius Clay (as he was known before the Liston fight) became a target of the FBI. Smith said, “They were looking at him as a threat to the social order, because they recognized on the eve of the fight against Sonny Liston that he had become aligned with Malcolm X.”
Watch Roland Martin, Randy Roberts, Johnny Smith, and the NewsOne Now panel discuss the friendship between Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X in the video clip above.