Muhammad Ali, the lyrical heavyweight showman who thrilled the globe with his sublime boxing style, unpredictable wit, and gentle generosity – especially later in life – died on Friday. He was 74. In the boxer’s final days, it is fair that his 1964 visit to Ghana may not have been top of his mind.
But he could be sure that Ghanaians would not forget that unforgettable period. Gary Al-Smith tells the story. Ghana was the place to be in the early1960s.
Any serious political leader or entertainer needed to see the nation that had dared to, with blood, toil – and with a certain brutally sexy panache – unencumbered itself from the might of British power. The newly minted nation of Ghana, formerly the Gold Coast, particularly attracted independence fighters, empowerment champions, anti-colonial activists and revolutionaries.
Adam Clayton Powell. George Padmore. Maya Angelou. Malcolm X. Martin Luther King. Richard Wright. C.L.R James. They all came. For many of them, it was a romantic trip. And so when, after several discussions with his agents and backers, Muhammad Ali settled on Ghana as his first stop on a planned Pan-African tour, it was no surprise. This was in 1964, a historic year in an Ali life that made every moment seem seminal.
On February 25, the loose-lipped Cassius Clay had beaten Sonny Liston, after which he screamed at the press “eat your words” following a heavy pre-match trashing of his chances. The next day, a calmer version of the 22-year old sat down at a press conference and informed the world that the rumours were true: he had fully converted to the Nation of Islam. And with it, the adoption of a new name – Cassius X.