Inside Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X's Friendship

With One Night in Miami taking over Amazon and drawing rave reviews, there are viewers wondering about the dynamic between the four main figures — Cassius Clay, Malcolm X, Sam Cooke and Jim Brown. The former two are drawing particular attention due to their unique relationship and time with the Nation of Islam. Here is the important information about their friendship.

According to NPR, the relationship between Clay — who later became Muhammad Ali — and Malcolm X is the subject of a book, "Blood Brothers: The Fatal Friendship Between Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X." Co-author Johnny Smith, a historian at Georgia Tech, says that the two men met in 1962. Clay attended a Saviour's Day rally in Chicago with his brother, Rudolph Valentino Clay. Malcolm X was the opening speaker at the rally and he reportedly mesmerized the Clay brothers.

According to the book, Malcolm X saw a charisma in Clay and began to "cultivate" the friendship, hoping that he could draw the boxer and his followers into the Nation of Islam. Clay reportedly saw Malcolm X as a big brother and father figure. He ultimately joined the Nation of Islam and announced the news to the world after defeating Sonny Liston in a heavyweight bout in Miami.

Clay became Muhammad Ali after the fight and sparked comments from several high-profile figures due to his conversion. He also saw his influence begin to rise at the same time that Malcolm X was departing the Nation of Islam. The activist had revealed that the Nation's revered founder, who was addressed as the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, had fathered several out-of-wedlock children with his secretaries. The Nation of Islam ousted him and sent him toward Sunni Islam.

Following Malcolm X's departure from the Nation of Islam, he and Ali only saw each other one more time. According to Smith, this tense interaction occurred in Ghana, Africa. They met outside of the Ambassador Hotel in the capital city of Accra and had a brief exchange.

"Ali and Malcolm, their eyes meet," Smith said about the interaction. "And at that moment, Malcolm says, 'Brother Muhammad! Brother Muhammad!' He wants to engage with him, say hello. He doesn't know Ali is mad at him, that they're no longer friends. He's got this half-smile on his face. And Muhammad Ali, just stone-faced, says, 'Brother Malcolm, you shouldn't have crossed the Honorable Elijah Muhammad.' And he essentially walks away from him."

Smith also noted that Elijah Muhammad's son was with Ali during that meeting in Africa. The boxer could not embrace a man that had been deemed a "mortal enemy" of the Nation of Islam. Malcolm X was assassinated the following year.


Co-author Randy Roberts explained that "One of Ali's greatest regrets — and he said as much — is that he never patched things up with Malcolm, that he never told Malcolm how important he was to him." Ali later left the Nation of Islam and embraced Sunni Islam.