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THE FIRST DAYS IN THE NEW LIFE OF THE CHAMPION OF THE WORLD
Huston Horn
March 09, 1964
Having won the title, Cassius emerged as a relatively quiet man with serious, if confused, religious leanings. The author, who has spent more time with Clay than any other writer, records the details of how Clay is dealing with success
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March 09, 1964

The First Days In The New Life Of The Champion Of The World

Having won the title, Cassius emerged as a relatively quiet man with serious, if confused, religious leanings. The author, who has spent more time with Clay than any other writer, records the details of how Clay is dealing with success

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Clay came in, looked around and went back out to the children. "There are so many responsibilities to being the champion," said Cassius. "I can feel the pressure already. And there are so many people around." He sat back down on the porch. "Who's the greatest?" he shouted again to the children, as much for them as for himself. " Cassius Clay," they answered. The party inside did not break up until Clay had suggested everybody get on his bus and take a ride downtown.

Shortly after 8 o'clock the next morning, Cassius had breakfast with Malcolm X at the Hampton House Motel. They discussed what Elijah Muhammad, the No. 1 Black Muslim, had said about Clay at a meeting in Chicago the night before (Allah and he had helped Clay win). "Clay is the finest Negro athlete I have ever known," Malcolm X said, "the man who will mean more to his people than any athlete before him. He is more than Jackie Robinson was, because Robinson is the white man's hero. But Cassius is the black man's hero. Do you know why? Because the white press wanted him to lose. They wanted him to lose because he is a Muslim. You notice nobody cares about the religion of other athletes. But their prejudice against Clay blinded them to his ability."

Now that Cassius had been mentioned publicly by Muhammad, the day ahead of him became one long interview (not one question was put to him that day about the fight). Some of the things he said he has been saying in watered-down form for several years, but this was the first time he was willing to identify himself with the Black Muslims. Although, as he said, "I am not a Black Muslim, because that is a word made up by the white press. I am a black man who has adopted Islam. I want peace, and I do not find peace in an integrated world. I love to be black, and I love to be with my people. I am a very intelligent boxer, you know, and people don't ask me about my muscles the way they would ask Liston or Patterson. They ask me about Zanzibar and Panama and Cuba, and I tell them what I think."

Cassius told the reporters who came by his house or called him on the phone that Allah was in the ring with him against Sonny Liston because he prayed five times a day (he prayed in his dressing-room shower before the fight). He said his people had a history stretching back 80,000 years whereas the English language was only 500 years old. "Why do I want to live in the white man's way?" he said. "Why do I want to get bit by dogs, washed down a sewer by fire hoses? Why does everybody attack me for being righteous? Why don't people leave me alone?"

Cassius, however, drew the line at admitting to certain ideas commonly associated with the Muslim movement—possibly because he has been taught a sugar-coated version of the socio-religious philosophy. He said there was no hate in his heart for the white man. "because I would be nowhere today without the white man's money." He said, furthermore, he knew nothing of the Muslims' concept of black supremacy. "Why do I have to feel superior to you? All I want to do is to live my own life among my own people."

Would any of this affect his future as a fighter, Clay was asked. "Why should it?" he said. "I've believed this way for four years, and it didn't have anything to do with my fighting. But I'll tell you this: if I had to give up my fighting or my religion, I already know what I would do. I would give up boxing and never look back."

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