From Ebony Magazine, September 1964

Captions like “[w]ildly cheering crowds in Kumasi, Ghana,” and “military guard assigned to keep Clay fans from getting out of hand” give us an idea of the adoration Ali received.

Today’s post continues our series exploring Ebony Magazine’s coverage of Black Muslims during the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. In a 1964 article entitled “Champ’s African Love Affair,” Ebony chronicles Muhammad Ali’s first tour of Africa less than a year after joining the Nation of Islam and becoming the heavyweight champion of the world. The editorial portion of the article is only one page long. The five subsequent pages contain powerful photographs of the champ in the various countries he visited, which included Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, and Egypt. Unfortunately no pictures are shown from his stop in Senegal, leaving us to wonder about Ali’s experience there. Still, the pictures presented are captivating. They demonstrate the love and esteem that Ali enjoyed from people on the continent.

Captions like “[w]ildly cheering crowds in Kumasi, Ghana,” and “military guard assigned to keep Clay fans from getting out of hand” give us an idea of the adoration Ali received. And Ali’s reflection that “[e]very black man in America should see Africa, because that’s where home really is” reveals something of his own thoughts during the historic trip.

The caption of one picture of Ali entering a beautiful mosque in Cairo reads “[w]ith solemn face — an unusual expression for exuberant Louisville Lip.”

While most of the pictures depict Ali receiving honors or being celebrated by fans, a few of the pictures from his time in Egypt display a different side of this renowned Black Muslim world traveler. The caption of one picture of Ali entering a beautiful mosque in Cairo reads “[w]ith solemn face — an unusual expression for exuberant Louisville Lip.” In another, he glares at a sculpture of an ancient Egyptian queen which appears to have had its nose damaged, like so many statues depicting rulers of the African cradle of civilization. Perhaps Ali was searching for other African features and lamenting that it was been defaced. Or perhaps he remembered Malcolm X’s comments about the Black women and men depicted by such structures.

He called President Kwame Nkrumah his ‘personal hero,’ undoubtedly due to Nkrumah’s Pan-Africanism and opposition to Western colonialism.

Ali served as an ambassador for both Black folks and Muslims from the United States. He was celebrated as a symbol of dignity by Black and Brown people and Muslims the world over. But in some ways, he exhibited the same hopes, concerns and expectations as many Black American Muslims who engaged Africa, whether through travel or by exploring its history and culture. Ali envisioned a familial relationship with Africans remarking,  “I want to see Africa and meet my brothers and sisters.”

He called President Kwame Nkrumah his ‘personal hero,’ undoubtedly due to Nkrumah’s Pan-Africanism and opposition to Western colonialism. Ali also appeared open to the thought of repatriation, expressing an interest in building a home on land he was given in Ghana. And he took note of the chasm between Africa’s reality and its depictions in the West, exclaiming, “[t]hey never told us about your beautiful flowers, magnificent hotels, beautiful houses, beaches, great hospitals, schools, and universities.” Enjoy these images of Muhammad Ali experiencing the beauty of Africa, its peoples, and its cultures.

Posted by rasulmiller

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