Sunday, June 5, 2016

How Muhammad Ali Answered A Question About What He Thought Of Malcolm X

Edited by Azizi Powell

I met Muhammad Ali in person in 1969.

At that time, I was living with African American poetess Sonia Sanchez and was working for her as a nanny for her toddler twin boys.

I represented Sonia Sanchez at a weekend Black cultural event at Indiana University when she was unable to make that engagement. (I read some of Sonia Sanchez' poems, and a few of mine.)

I wasn't aware that Muhammad Ali was also scheduled to speak at that cultural event. But when I arrived at the airport in Bloomington, Indiana there was a huge crowd surrounding someone- and that person turned out to be the charismatic heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali.

Muhammad Ali had a limousine, and somehow it happened that other people (I recall that it wasn't just Black people) who were going to the hotel near the university were invited to join Muhammad Ali in his limo. I don't remember anything more about that ride except that I felt that Muhammad Ali loved the attention that he received, especially from the young women in that limo. (I was 20 at that time, but I was much too shy to say anything to any celebrity.)

When we arrived at the hotel, Muhammad Ali was quickly escorted up to his room. I remember someone from his entourage inviting all those who rode in the limousine to come up to his suite. But I didn't go.

The next day-after my presentation which I was relieved went well- I was part of a standing room only audience who attended Muhammad Ali's speech. The main thing that I remember about that speech was how articulate Muhammad Ali was. While he spoke on a wide range of subjects about Black culture, my most keen memory about that presentation was how artfully Muhammad Ali responded to a White man's question about what Muhammad Ali thought about Malcolm X.

As background- Muhammad Ali was a Black Muslim, a follower of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, the leader of the Nation of Islam. After Malcolm X left the Nation of Islam to become a Sunni Muslim, members of the Nation of Islam were against Malcolm X. And there are even some who say that members of the Nation of Islam were responsible for Malcolm X's assassination. However, Malcolm X was Muhammad Ali's former mentor in the Nation of Islam and also was Muhammad Ali's former friend.

And Malcolm X was (and still is) a beloved icon for many African Americans, particularly in the year 1970 when that Indiana University Black cultural event occurred, and particularly among the young afrocentric audience that attended that university event.

So it was definitely a loaded question for someone- particularly for someone White - to ask Muhammad Ali what he thought of Malcolm X.

Muhammad Ali artfully answered that question by denouncing the questioner's intent. I don't remember word for word what he said, but in essence Ali called out the questioner for coming to an event which celebrated Black unity and trying to turn Black people against each other. In no uncertain terms, Muhammad Ali said that he wasn't having it -that we (Black people) weren't fighting with other Black people but we were celebrating our culture and if the man who asked that question didn't like that, he could leave.

I remember the audience loving that answer- and I knew then that Muhammad Ali could have been a great politician if he had wanted to since he had adroitly sidestepped responding in a way that would have undoubtedly turned most of the Black people in the audience against him.

Rest in peace- Muhammad Ali AND Malcolm X.

Note: I first published this as a comment to this panococojams post:
"Muhammad Ali's "Float Like A Butterfly Sting Like A Bee" Line & Its Use In "Fly Girl" Foot Stomping Cheers".

I'm re-posting it so that it will be easier to find on this blog.

This content is posted for historical and cultural information.

Thanks to Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X for their activism, their strong Black male role modeling, and more.

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