Muhammad Ali, n� Cassius Clay, who is the heavyweight champion of the world to everyone but a few misguided officials of the World Boxing Association and Madison Square Garden, spends his time these days laboriously preparing lectures or exuberantly giving them. He lives in a small house in what was a middle-class white section of Chicago but is now rapidly becoming a middle-class Negro section.
On a cold, wet afternoon a fortnight ago he sat at the dining room table in the house he bought from Herbert Muhammad, his manager. He was wearing a dark blue undershirt, blue jeans and white sweat socks, and before him on the table were a Bible, a Koran and a book by Elijah Muhammad: Message to the Black Man in America
. On the floor was a tape recorder loaded with a tape of a speech Elijah had made in Chicago to his Black Muslim followers some time before. Ali has nearly a hundred of these tapes, which he plays over and over, making notes on what Elijah says.
He had been transcribing notes from a long yellow legal pad to three-by-five cards, in preparation for a lecture, and now he stopped and stretched hugely. The muscles in his arms and shoulders are immense; the mature Ali is a big man, bigger than Sonny Liston ever was.
"I been up since 5:30," he said. "Been working on this lecture I got to give at UCLA. This one runs 54 cards and I can hold an audience spellbound for a hour and a half with it."
He riffled through the cards admiringly, stopping now and again to read a phrase.
"I got six lectures I can give now," he said. "Took me 2� months' hard work to get them ready. Sometimes I get up at 5:30 in the morning, work straight through to 3:30 the next morning and get mad cause I can't keep my eyes open to study more. I didn't study too good in high school and now I'm ashamed and I'm making up for it. I find a word I don't know, I look it up in the dictionary."
He regarded the top card of the 54 and began reading from it. At first he read in a quick monotone, but quickly the charm of his own prose and his extraordinary sense of the dramatic took hold and in a few moments he was delivering what amounted to a sermon. He has the same flair as a speaker that he had as a fighter.
"Take Lazarus," he said, staring hypnotically across the room as if he were addressing a multitude. "He was charmed by the wealth of the rich man. He didn't get any of it but he loved to be around it, loved to see it and feel it and smell it. Even when he was offered a home in paradise, he couldn't bear to leave all that wealth behind him. And Lazarus was hated and despised by the rich men."
He broke off suddenly and grinned.
"I got to get this down like I did boxing," he said. "Got to have the power and the speed and the stamina. I haven't got this lecture memorized yet, but I will by the time I have to give it."