In the Face of Adversity: Muhammad Ali's Conscientious Objection

Introduction to Islam

Muhammad Ali fighting as an amateur in the 1959 Chicago Golden Gloves tournament.

Photograph and caption courtesy of the Chicago Tribune. 

Introduction to Islam

In March 1959, while in Chicago, Illinois, for a Golden Gloves tournament, Muhammad Ali encountered a man passing out flyers with information about the Nation of Islam. The man explained to Ali that Islam was the "original religion" of Black people and the Nation of Islam uplifted Black people in a way that society was not currently doing. Being from the segregated, southern city of Louisville, Kentucky, this intrigued young Cassius.

Over the next few years, as Ali traveled to Europe and around the United States for his boxing, he began to learn and practice the values and teachings of Elijah Muhammad, the Nation of Islam's leader. Simultaneously, the presence of the United States military in Vietnam began to grow. 

After much speculation from the press, on February 26, 1964, Muhammad Ali formally announced his affiliation with the Nation of Islam and proclaimed he would be then known as Cassius X. A few short weeks later, he would reintroduce himself as Muhammad Ali. 

Share this exhibit