“You take Sonny Liston,” Cassius Clay was saying here, “he’s the champion of the world, and that’s supposed to take in America.
“But when he tried to buy a house in a segregated neighborhood down here he was turned down. The white people don’t want integration; I don’t believe in forcing it, and the Muslims don’t believe in it.
“So what’s so wrong about the Muslims? They’re not the ones getting locked up, so they must not be doing anything wrong. They’re not out on the streets fighting, trying to get in places where they’re not wanted.
“Sure, I talked to the Muslims’ meeting, and I’m going back again. I like the Muslims.”
The challenger for Liston’s title was granting the first interview about his interest in the Black Muslims while a trainer massaged him at the Fifth Street Gym, were Clay is getting ready for the Feb. 25 bout.
Clay addressed a meeting of the Black Muslims on Jan. 21, in New York, interrupting his training schedule. Previously, all questions about Clay’s talk were referred to Arch Robinson, the challenger’s personal public relations man.
“The Muslims don’t believe in drinking, smoking, taking dope, committing crimes. They teach you to be clean.
“There’s some terrible things going on in this country. A lot of them are happening to the Negro.
“I tell my boys — don’t start any trouble. I believe in stepping aside if I’m not wanted. Two little Negro boys go to a white school and the other kids don’t want them? The two Negroes shouldn’t be sent.”
Wasn’t “stepping aside” something like quitting the fight for his rights?
“What rights?” Clay asked. “I know what it’s like to travel in the South — and in the North, too. You don’t know how your chauffeur lives, what he says, what he thinks.
“But he knows how you live because he sees it. He hears you talk and knows what you think.
“You don’t know what the Negro in America is thinking about and that’s why a lot of you are scared. Liston mixes and I get criticized for staying among my own kind. That’s all right with me.”