As a Nation of Islam heavyweight, boxing legend Muhammad Ali referred to Caucasians as “white devils” and “crackers” and told mosque worshipers that “black women have the best sons and daughters in the world,” according to Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) records obtained by Judicial Watch. Known as Cassius Clay before converting to Islam, Ali also said “programs of integration are useless,” that blacks want separation not integration and that the 1964 Civil Rights Act was a “swindle.” The three-time heavyweight champion also told Muslims during a mosque delivery that “the so-called Negro is the original man and is superior to the white devil” and that he’d rather be with his own people than “blue-eyed devil white people.”
The FBI files present a picture of the late heavyweight champion that is clearly at odds with much of the image portrayed at the time of his death last year. His deep involvement with the Nation of Islam and its racially divisive rhetoric and behavior is part of a record that deserves to be revealed and contradicts Ali’s image as a civil rights icon. The hundreds of pages of documents are related to the FBI’s investigation of Ali for evading the draft and the government’s monitoring of the Nation of Islam, which is described by the agency as an “all-Negro, quasi-religious organization which espouses a line of violent hatred of the white race, Government, law and law enforcement.” The federal surveillance files show that Ali told a Washington D.C. mosque crowd that he preferred “dying outright” or going to jail than going into the Army and at a Cleveland mosque the boxer said the American flag “represented death and destruction” but the “Muslim flag” represents “life and prosperity, justice for all black men.”
The records reveal the great threat the FBI perceived the Nation of Islam to be in the 1960s and that Ali was closely monitored by the agency as a “security matter” due to his associations with Nation of Islam leaders Elijah Mohammad and Malcom X. The Nation of Islam followed Mohammad’s interpretation of the “Koran,” the FBI records say, which taught that white people are “white devils” to be destroyed in a coming “War of Armageddon.”
In April 1964, Ali’s plans to travel to Muslim countries alarmed the FBI and the agency searched his passport files and recorded that while in Accra, Ghana, Ali said he planned to bring four wives back to the US. Ali’s ex-wife, Sonji Roi, informed the FBI that the Nation of Islam received 80% of the boxer’s earnings while he only got 20%. The records also state that Ali was arrested for assault and battery in July 1960 at his parents’ home in Louisville, Kentucky and that his mother witnessed the crime.
Judicial Watch had to sue the government to get the records, which are decades old but come to light as Ali’s family ironically uses his name and legacy to launch a national campaign to end racial and religious profiling. Just weeks ago, Ali’s second wife, Khalilah Camacho-Ali, and son, Muhammad Ali Jr, announced that they’re launching an anti-discrimination initiative called “Step into the Ring.” The inspiration came from getting detained and questioned at a south Florida airport where mother and son claim they were racially and religiously profiled.
The Alis were returning from a Jamaican Black History month event in February and assert that federal immigration officers harassed them. As part of their “Step into the Ring” campaign they traveled to Capitol Hill in March to make a plea to end racial and religious profiling. During congressional testimony Camacho-Ali said this: “Somebody needs to turn this ‘humanity’ switch on because we’re not going to go back to Robert E. Lee,” referring to the Civil War Confederate Army commander. “We must step into the ring and fight this thing and keep fighting it until it’s done because it will be done,” she continued.
When Muhammad Ali died in Phoenix, Arizona last June hordes of media outlets published obituaries rehashing his spectacular boxing career and accomplishments as a civil rights idol. One mainstream news outlet called Ali a “civil rights champion” and “an emblem of strength, eloquence, conscience and courage.” Another wrote that, along with a fearsome reputation as a fighter, Ali spoke out against racism, war and religious intolerance. Then President Barack Obama issued a statement saying that Ali fought for everyone. “He stood with King and Mandela,” Obama said, adding that the boxer “stood up when it was hard; spoke out when others wouldn’t.
His fight outside the ring would cost him his title and his public standing. It would earn him enemies on the left and the right, make him reviled, and nearly send him to jail. But Ali stood his ground. And his victory helped us get used to the America we recognize today,” the former president said in a White House statement that was published worldwide. Ali’s FBI files certainly paint a vastly different portrait of the boxer.