Much has been written since Muhammad Ali's death about his "transcending race and religion." One commentator suggested that "throughout history white Americans have toned down," and in some cases, rewritten, those stories that have made "radical people of color" more palatable to the mainstream.
Not only was this done to Ali, but also to Malcolm X. The scribes claimed that while in Mecca during Hajj, Malcolm X awakened to the universality of his faith and then they methodically went about discounting his 13-year Nation of Islam (NOI) history - a history that made him into a national and international spokesman for the plight of black people.
It has even been suggested that Malcolm X was Ali's mentor and was responsible for his conversion to Islam. Why the writers have not gone to Ali's autobiography, "The Greatest" to verify this falsehood, is anyone's guess. Ali said he first encountered the Nation of Islam in 1959 in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. A couple of years later while in Miami for the Sonny Liston fight he met Captain Sam, who eventually became Minister Abdul Rahman. Rahman invited him out to the Mosque. Muhammad Ali's relationship with Captain Sam continued until Herbert Muhammad, son of NOI leader, Elijah Muhammad, took over as Ali's mentor and as his manager.
According to Ali's autobiography, after becoming a member of the NOI he "approached the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, who is responsible for giving him the name Muhammad Ali, and asked him if his son "Herbert (could) act as my consultant in and out of the ring." Herbert became his consultant while Ali was still under contract with "The Louisville Sponsoring Group, a group of white Louisville millionaires. Herbert became Ali's manager after that contract expired.
In fact, it was Herbert who was responsible for negotiating Ali's multi-million dollar earnings. According to Murray Goodman, one of boxing's most well known publicists, "Boxing needs a new category for a manager like Herbert Muhammad. He has created more million dollar gates than all other managers combined. He knows the value of his fighter. He has made the best known performer the best paid performer in the world. He has enabled his fighter (Ali) to earn an average of five million dollars per year after he returned to the ring from exile."
Herbert's impact on boxing was so great that in 1974 he received the "Manager of the Year" award from the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
"Ali understood strength," Dr. Ferdie Pacheco, Ali's corner man and personal physician, once explained. Just like Sonny Liston understood the Mafia, Ali understood that you did not f*** with the (Black) Muslims … Many of the promoters who were used to skimming a bit off a fighter's purse and divvying it up with the mob, now faced the wrath of the Nation of Islam if they tried pulling such a stunt with Ali."
Herbert and the NOI's consciences objector position and Ali's reading of the Muhammad Speaks newspaper, and its anti-war stance influenced the heavy weight champion's stand on the war in Vietnam. But to say his opposition to the war resulted in his refusal to be drafted, wouldn't tell the whole story.
His first anti-Vietnam war remark, "We ain't got nothing against no Viet Cong," occurred in Miami, in front of a group of children. It was repeated in front of reporters. From that moment until he stood before the draft board, Ali was constantly pressured to recant his stance. One thing that gave him strength and helped him hold his position was a meeting with Elijah Muhammad, where he told Ali, "Brother, if you felt what you said was wrong, then you should be a man and apologize for it. And likewise, if you felt what you said was right then be a man and stand up for it."
As we say, the rest is history.