June 3 marks the one-year anniversary of boxing legend Muhammad Ali’s death, and many are reflecting on his life and legacy. A piece featured in TIME delves into his transformative conversion to Islam.
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In his forthcoming book Ali: A Life, out in October from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, author Jonathan Eig excerpts a letter that Ali wrote to his second wife, Khalilah Camacho-Ali, who was married to the legendary fighter from 1967-1976. In the letter, which Camacho-Ali says her ex-husband wrote some time in the late 1960s, Ali describes seeing a cartoon in the Nation of Islam newspaper, Muhammad Speaks, outside a skating rink in his hometown of Louisville.
The cartoon illustrated how white slave owners brutally beat their slaves, while insisting that they pray to Jesus. The message: Christianity was the religion of the oppressive white establishment. “I liked that cartoon,” Ali wrote. “It did something to me. And it made sense.”
Ali’s description of the cartoon matches a strip printed in the December 1961 edition of Muhammad Speaks.
According to the outlet, Ali publicly converted to Islam in 1964; a powerful decision that sparked a lot of backlash from his critics.
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