A New Kind of Black Man: Muhammad Ali’s Political Conversion to the Nation of Islam

Ezra Beinart
Abraham Joshua Heschel School, New York

Muhammad Ali’s conversion to the Nation of Islam in 1964 outraged sports journalists, boxing promoters, civil rights leaders and millions of White boxing fans. It provoked them because his new faith signified not just a religious identity but a political one. As Ali detailed in a 1967 letter to his wife, his embrace of the Nation of Islam (NOI) and rejection of Christianity represented a rejection of what he saw as the slave master’s religion, forced upon Black Americans to keep them submissive. It was this rejection – which violated White expectations of Black athletes and defined the political narrative for Ali’s early fights – that White America feared.

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EZRA BEINART is a rising senior at the Abraham Joshua Heschel School in New York City.

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