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Clay Advocates Tenets of Nation of Islam

Feb. 26, 1964 - “I don’t have to be what you want me to be,” said Cassius Clay, the new heavyweight champion. “I’m free to be who I want.” Calm, poised, genial, but rarely smiling, the 22-year-old who beat Sonny Liston for the title last night faced a battery of cameras and newsmen today.

Speaking softly (for the first time in recent memory), he spoke of the fight, of his unresolved immediate plans, and of the tenets of the Black Muslim movement. At first, he pleased his predominantly white audience with amiable and measured statements about the victory. They smiled when Cassius said: “I’m through talking. All I have to do is be a nice, clean gentleman.” But they began to shift a little nervously when he gently put them down: “I’m sorry for Liston. You people put too much load on him. You built him up too big, and how he has such a long way to fall.”

And finally, there was a trace of antagonism when refused to play the mild, socially uninvolved sports-hero stereotype and began to use the news conference as a platform for socio-political theory: “I go to a Black Muslim meeting, and what do I see? I see that there’s no smoking and no drinking, and their women wear dresses down to the floor. And then I come out on the street, and you tell me I shouldn’t go in there. Well, there must be something in there if you don’t want me to go in there.” Clay said he wanted to be nice to everyone, but he warned that no one would make him into something he was not.

Someone asked: “Are you a card-carrying member of the Black Muslims?”

Clay replied: “Card-carrying, what does that mean?” Then he spoke with revivalistic fervor about the group’s separatist doctrine. “In the jungle, lions are with lions and tigers with tigers. That’s human nature too, to be with your own kind. I don’t want to go where I’m not wanted.”

Clay put down the civil rights movement (“I’m a citizen already”); defended Malcolm X (“If he’s bad, why don’t they put him in jail?”), and questioned those who attacked his leanings (“I catch so much hell, why? Why me when I don’t try to bust into schools or march around or throw bricks?”).

Clay said that he would give Liston a rematch “if he wants one.” He did not bad-mouth Sonny, although he did say that Liston never had hurt him and was constantly off-balance. He said that now that the fight was over, there was no need to insult Liston, that that had been part of the whole act.

As for his immediate plans, Clay very well may be guided by the Black Muslims at this time. It was learned that his private victory part last night was held at Hampton House, a Miami Hotel, and one of the guests was Malcolm X.


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