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Cassius Clay Speaks Out on Racial Issues

Feb. 2, 1964 - “You take Sonny Liston,” said heavyweight Cassius Clay today in Miami. “He’s the champion of the world, and that’s supposed to include America. But when he tried to buy a house in a segregated neighborhood down here, he was turned down. The white people don’t want integration. I don’t believe in forcing it, and the Black Muslims don’t believe in it. So, what’s so wrong about the Muslims? They’re not the ones getting locked up, so they must not be doing anything wrong. They’re not out on the streets fighting, trying to get in places where they’re not wanted. Sure, I talked to the Muslims’ meeting, and I’m going back again. I like the Muslims.”

The challenger for Liston’s title was granting the first interview about his interest in the Black Muslims while a trainer massaged him at the Fifth Street Gym, where Clay is getting ready for the Feb. 25 bout. Clay addressed a meeting of the Black Muslims on Jan. 21 in New York, interrupting his training schedule. Previously, all questions about Clay’s talk were referred to Arch Robinson, the challenger’s personal public relations man.

“The Muslims don’t believe in drinking, smoking, taking dope, committing crimes. They teach you to be clean. There’s some terrible things going on in this country. A lot of them are happening to the Negro. In Cleveland, the Negroes tried to integrate, and you could see what happened. The white people hit the Negroes and the Negroes hit the white people.”

“I send Bundini [Drew Brown, a trainer] downstairs to get me some tea,” Clay continued, “and they refuse to serve him. I go down, and when they see Cassius Clay they want to serve it then, only because I’m Cassius Clay.”

Wasn’t the goal of racial separation quitting the right for his rights? “What rights?” Clay responded. “I know what it’s like to travel in the South — and in the North. You just don’t know what the Negro in America is thinking about, and that’s why a lot of you are scared.”

Were organizations like the NAACP wrong for seeking integration? “They have a right to do what they think, but I’m not going to get killed trying to force myself on people who don’t want me. I like my life. Integration is wrong.”

Is Clay an actual member of the Black Muslims? “I was born a Muslim, I’m told. My race is descended from the people in Africa whose religion has always made them Muslim. I’m not made at the white people. If they like me, I like them. Milton Berle has invited me to the hotel where he is performing, so I’ll go. But I wouldn’t go there if I wasn’t wanted. I know this talk about liking the Muslims is going to hurt the fight promotion and thereby cost me some money. But money is not a God to me. I don’t care.”


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