Malcolm X was one of the forefront black activists and his friendship with Muhammad Ali gave the white man terrible headaches.
The United States of America has never been a land of the free for a black man. The existence of the black in America is treated as an unwanted thing, and from all angles of life, the black man still finds himself in shackles.
But in contemporary society, a lot has significantly changed for the blacks, even though total freedom remains a pipe dream. In the 1950s and 60s, at the height of racial segregation in America, there emerged a militant approach to fighting white oppression.
Malcolm X had grown to resent Christianity for it was an embodiment of white oppression; it was a religion used to disguise the callousness of the Caucasians. Religion had been employed by the white man to pacify black people so that they would not question the deplorable conditions in which their existence was thrust in. The life of Malcolm X had metamorphosed to that of vehemently and spiritedly fighting the vile racial segregation policies that prevailed at the time. The black man, through these policies, was effectively barred from having any access to social mobility and many had been accustomed to resigning to their miserable fate. But this was something that Malcolm X did not tolerate, and he gave the white man problems time and again.
A man who had renounced his name because of its direct link to the slave trade, Malcolm X had turned to Islam to free his mind and thus take on the white establishment head-on. He joined the black separatist movement, the Nation of Islam when he was still in prison and that was an important turning point in the fight for black rights. He was militant in his approach, believing that for there to be order there needed to be a separation of the blacks and whites. For him, white people had proved to be extremely obstinate as regards co-existence with other races and there was no other way to assert one’s existence in such a terrible world but to fight back. Christianity had implanted the notion that one had to turn the other cheek when slapped, but for Malcolm X the black man had to fight back. He was completely revolutionary in how he tackled the white establishment, saying that the mind of the black man had been taught wrongly and had been induced to accept squalid conditions as a way of life, which was wrong.
His influence had grown so strong that a young Cassius Clay, who later changed his name to Muhammad Ali in denouncing the white establishment, had been drawn to the Islam way of fighting white oppression. Malcolm X was the one who recruited Muhammad Ali into the Nation of Islam and the two had developed a friendship that was a solid threat to the interests of the white community in America. At the time the two had developed a friendship, Malcolm X was growing disillusioned with Elijah Muhammad, the prophet leader of the Nation of Islam. Elijah Muhammad had lost the true Islamic values, Malcolm X asserted, and he did not want Malcolm X to fully implement his revolutionary thinking in fighting white oppression. He did not want Malcolm to talk publicly about politics and civil rights. Malcolm X had become a beacon of intellectual superiority and Elijah resented this.
Ali had been strongly inclined to Malcolm’s teachings, he was now an ardent follower of the Nation of Islam, armed with unbridled revolutionary enthusiasm. So profound was this development that Muhammad Ali flatly refused to be conscripted into the U.S Army to go fight in the Vietnam War. His brazen actions resulted in stripped off of his heavyweight title and his passport and was banned from fighting in the U.S.
“Why should they ask me to put on a uniform,” Ali said, “and go 10,000 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?… I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs. We’ve been in jail for four hundred years.”
“It is in the light of my consciousness as a Muslim minister and my convictions that I take my stand in rejecting the call to be inducted. I do so with the full realization of its implications. I have searched my conscience.” Ali also said, “no Vietcong ever called me nigger.” That alone was powerful and it rattled the system. His conviction was later overturned by the Supreme Court in 1971, but the message that Ali had sent to the world was loud and clear.
When Malcolm was assassinated in 1965 while delivering a speech because of his friction with the Nation of Islam, his friendship with Muhammad Ali had deteriorated. Ali did not agree with Malcolm’s decision of being disobedient to Elijah Muhammad. “Brother Malcolm, you shouldn’t have crossed the honorable Elijah Muhammad,” Ali had remarked this to Malcolm.
Randy Roberts and Johnny Smith, the authors of the book “Blood Brothers,” said, “The relationship between Cassius Clay and Malcolm X signaled a new direction in American culture, one shaped by the forces of sports and entertainment, race and politics. Under Malcolm’s tutelage, [Ali] embraced the world stage, emerging as an international symbol of black pride and black independence. Without Malcolm, Muhammad Ali would have never become the ‘king of the world.” The book details their friendship, how it shaped the world at the time and its subsequent breakdown.
Malcolm’s ex-communication from the Nation provided the ground for his friendship with Ali to break down. He fought for Ali’s loyalty, attempting to use him as a bargaining chip with Elijah Muhammad. Ali was no longer amenable to Malcolm’s moves at the time. He referred to Malcolm as “a jailbird, a hoodlum … that chief hypocrite,” and he declared that “Mr. [Elijah] Muhammad will destroy him through Allah.”
Ali later expressed this as one of the biggest regrets in his life. Years after Malcolm had been assassinated, he began to view him “a visionary, ahead of us all.” In 2004, Ali wrote, “Malcolm was the first to discover the truth, that color doesn’t make a man a devil.
It is the heart, soul, and mind that define a person.”
“Malcolm X was a great thinker and an even greater friend,” wrote Ali. “I might never have become a Muslim if it hadn’t been for Malcolm. If I could go back and do it all over again, I would never have turned my back on him.”
Although their friendship had died, their conduct and ideas inspired millions of black people all over the world. Ali was loved in Africa for his famous fight in 1974 in the Democratic Republic of Congo dubbed “Rumble in the Jungle” when he defeated George Foreman. Ali supported the fight for freedom in African countries and he visited Ghana, Nigeria, DRC, Kenya, and Egypt. Together with Malcolm X, they presented a tough time for the oppressors.