Shortly after Cassius Clay knocked-out Sonny Liston to earn his first world heavyweight championship title, he announced he was converting to Islam and becoming a member of Nation of Islam (NOI).
A few weeks after his victory he adopted a Muslim name.
“Cassius Clay is a slave name,” he said. “I didn’t choose it and I don’t want it.’
According to the Independent, the 22-year-old attended his first NOI meeting in 1961 and then later joined the African American Islamic religious movement in hopes of improving the status of African Americans in the U.S.
NOI leader Elijah Muhammad — who would become the surrogate father to Ali — was the one who announced the man formerly known as Cassius Clay was to be called “Muhammad Ali.”
Though Ali’s managers thought his relationship with the NOI would jeopardize his career, he didn’t let that stop him from continuing to grow as a boxer as well as political leader.
“I am Muhammad Ali, a free name – it means beloved of God, and I insist people use it when people speak to me,” declared the late Muhammad Ali in 1964.
RIP, Mr. Ali