One Night in Miami is out on Amazon Video, providing a dramatized version of interactions between boxer Cassius Clay, NFL star Jim Brown, Civil Rights activist Malcolm X and singer-songwriter Sam Cooke. There are some viewers that were previously unaware that Clay later changed his name to Muhammad Ali after joining the Nation of Islam. Here is what we know about that profound decision.
There have been several accounts over the years that detail how and why Ali decided to join the Nation of Islam. However, Jonathan Eig, author of Ali: A Life, obtained a handwritten letter from the boxer's wife that provides a seemingly definitive version of the story. He used this letter to provide even more context about Ali's decision to switch religions and change his name after becoming a heavyweight champion.
According to the author, Ali got in a fight with Khalilah Camacho-Ali in 1964. During this argument, she told the boxer that he "was out of control" and that he had lost all traces of humanity. Camacho-Ali told him to sit down and write an essay about why he became a Muslim. "In the letter, Ali writes of his teenage days in Louisville when he was still known as Cassius Clay Jr. He says he was leaving a roller skating rink and scanning the sidewalk for pretty girls when he noticed a man in a black mohair suit selling newspapers for the Nation of Islam," Eig wrote, per the Washington Post.
"Ali took a newspaper, mostly to be polite, but a cartoon caught his eye," Eig continued. "It showed a white slave owner beating his black slave and insisting the man pray to Jesus. The message was that Christianity was a religion forced on slaves by the white establishment. 'I liked that cartoon,' Ali wrote. 'It did something to me. And it made sense.'"
The book continues to explain that Ali didn't discuss spiritual terms when discussing why he joined the Nation of Islam. Instead, he said that the cartoon awakened him and made him realize that he hadn't chosen Christianity. Ali also hadn't chosen the name Cassius Clay, so he made a declaration after winning the heavyweight championship in 1964.
"I believe in Allah and in peace," Ali said, according to Eig. "I don’t try to move into white neighborhoods. I don’t want to marry a white woman. I was baptized when I was 12, but I didn’t know what I was doing. I’m not a Christian anymore. I know where I'm going and I know the truth and I don’t have to be what you want me to be. I'm free to be what I want."