FBI releases Muhammad Ali’s ties with Nation of Islam online

Muhammad Ali and Min. Louis Farrakhan (Photo Source: NOI Archives/Richard Muhammad)

There was never any doubt that the FBI has infiltrated Black organizations throughout its history. From the NAACP to the SCLC, any Black organization or Black leader that had a national impact was investigated by the Bureau. So, it should be no surprise that Muhammad Ali and his role in the Nation of Islam were also under the scrutiny of the FBI. There used to be a time when documents related to this government agency could only be viewed with a Freedom of Information Act request. But now the FBI has made various documents available on ts website.

The 142-page file starts in January 1966 and is a collection of reports from the various agents and field offices that monitored Ali and the Nation of Islam (NOI). The heavily redacted document reveals that the NOI had numerous FBI informants that even revealed information about the Hon. Elijah Muhammad, his sons and business dealings with the career of Muhammad Ali.  Throughout the document, FBI agents refer to Ali by his former name Cassius Clay fully aware that Ali was now his legal name.

Other highlights include:

1) The third page of the file reveals that information was gathered from investigations in New York, Chicago and Cleveland regarding Ali’s business Main Bout, Inc. and boxing. There is a line the report that states: “For information of the Bureau and Cleveland, as noted in letterhead memorandum, < name redacted>, was emphatic when he stated he felt <name redacted> was roped in on this. He likewise stated he did not think <name redacted> was a Nation of Islam (NOI) member, stating that he was certain he would have heard of it if he was.” Cleveland is the home of a prominent and controversial figure in the sport of boxing who has had business dealings with Ali.

2) Herbert Muhammad was paid the $45K as president of Main Bout, Inc. That is the equivalent of $334,705.19 in 2016.

3) The Nation of Islam would receive income from Main Bout, Inc but the percentage was not known at the time by the FBI.

4) The NOI is referred to as a Black supremacist cult.

5) Muhammad Ali ordered and wore a Captain’s uniform of the Fruit of Islam (FOI), which is considered a defensive and security organization within the NOI. An informant told the FBI that Ali never attended any meetings and that FOI leadership was dissatisfied with his discipline. The informant further states that the FOI leadership said Ali needed more discipline to be a satisfactory Muslim.

6) In February 1966 in Chicago, the NOI held a national convention. Security by the FOI searched fire department personnel on the premises, causing an outrage within the Chicago Fire Department calling it an “insult.”

7) One memo highlights Ali’s divorce of his first wife, Sonji. Ali said that she had not lived up to the Muslim faith, dressing immodestly and wearing lipstick.

8) It was rumored in 1966 that Ali would marry one of the daughters of Gamal Abdel Nasser, then the president of Egypt.

9) The FBI report states that Ali was “under continuous investigation by this bureau for a number of years” but claimed that Ali himself was not the subject “of an active investigation.”

10) Reports in this document were secret and reviewed in 1980 and 1986 and have now been partially declassified.

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