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Muhammad Ali Meets the Press

July 2, 1964 - Muhammad Ali, heavyweight boxing champion of the world, sat in the center of a large, deep-piled “praying rug” given him by Gamal Abdel Nasser (right), president of the United Arab Republic, on a recent trip to Egypt and Africa and invited two female friends to sit beside him for a picture.

“The rug is used for praying by us Muslims,” he explained. “Of course, here, I’ve got to use it in our recreation room. It won’t fit no place else.”

All about him in the basement room of the tidy little Louisville home he gave his mother after he became champion were presents given to him by chiefs of state on his long trip — silver and copper trays, an elephant tusk beautifully hand-carved, a copy of the Koran bound in green leather and embossed in gold, and many medals and ornaments.

The champion had earlier criticized the civil rights bill approved by Congress today and said the only real solution to the Negro’s problem is for the country to give from one to five states completely over to the Negroes — to be run by and for the Negroes.

“Everywhere I go, people ask me about politics and race relations, instead of boxing,” he said. “They seem to respect my opinion. I must make sense.

“My big complaint is that writers still call me Clay. My name is Muhammad Ali, just like you see it spelled in that big book on Egyptian mosques over there.”

“I don’t mind being interviewed on politics,” he said, “except that things you say get so twisted around.

“Like that story that came from Egypt. It had me saying that when I returned to my home town I’d be treated like an animal. All I said was that where I come from — the United States, I meant — some Negroes are treated like animals. I surely didn’t mean Louisville. Louisville is my home, and I like it. I think I have lots of friends here.”

He added, however, that integrationists in Louisville and elsewhere are ineffective.

“It’s just as bad if not worse in New York than in Mississippi. At least, in Mississippi, you know where you stand.”

He paused for breath and smiled.

“Let’s talk about all these pretty gifts I got here. They make me feel happy. All that other stuff just makes me sad.”

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