Tag Archives: Nation of Islam

Cassius and Sonji Clay: Love and Boxing

sonji_claycassius_claySonji Clay and Muhammad Ali (then Cassius Clay), circa 1965.  Awwwwww.  Note his puppy dog gaze…

Here in Chicago (back in the mid-60s), Cassius was flirting with the Black Muslims, superstardom and love (with a local singer named Sonji)…. According to Ali’s one-time doctor, Ferdie Pacheco, “[Ali’s first Wife,] Sonji was a pert, very pretty gal. She had a sister who was even better than her, with an outrageous Anita Ekberg body to go with her face. But she was too much woman for the boy-wonder Clay. He was still looking for a high-school romance. Kissing and petting, going to the movies and eating ice cream.” They were married in 1964, 41 days after they met.  By January 1966, they were divorced.  In a 2003 Observer Sport Monthly article, Pacheco continues, “As Ali went to the temple, and as his enchantment with [her] waned, Sonji saw the handwriting on the wall. She was in no place to make deals and demands with the Muslim muscle offering a harsher and more ‘permanent’ deal. Sonji split, with some cash, her jewels – and her life”.    

But it was a wild (if short) ride for the nightclub singer and the boxer-who-would-be-king.

Below, Sonji Clay’s version of “I Can’t Wait Until I See My Baby’s Face”, a local Chicago cut. It’s a mid-sixties sweetheart of a record arranged by the mighty, mighty James Mack. Swoon….

Portraits of Black Chicago: The Fruit of Islam


The Fruit of Islam,’ a special group of bodyguards for Muslim leader Elijah Muhammad, sits at the bottom of the platform while he delivers his annual Savior’s Day message in Chicago. March 1974.

“….The city is headquarters for the Black Muslims. Their $75 million dollar empire includes a mosque, newspaper, university, restaurants, real estate, bank, and variety of retail stores. Muhammad died February 25, 1975.” – caption by John H. White

UPDATE:  Since 1978, Louis Farrakhan has been the leader of a reconstituted Nation of Islam.  The Nation of Islam’s headquarters is still located in Chicago, Illinois, and its flagship Mosque No. 2, Mosque Maryam is on South Stony Island Avenue.

according to Wikipedia:

In an interview on NBC‘s Meet the Press, Louis Farrakhan was asked by Tim Russert to explain the Nation of Islam’s view on separation:

“Tim Russert: Once a week, on the back page [of your newspaper] is The Muslim Program, “What the Muslims Want,” [written in 1965]. The first is in terms of territory, “Since we cannot get along with them in peace and equality, we believe our contributions to this land and the suffering forced upon us by white America justifies our demand for complete separation in a state or territory of our own.” Is that your view in 1997, a separate state for Black Americans?”

“Minister Louis Farrakhan: First, the program starts with number one. That is number four. The first part of that program is that we want freedom, a full and complete freedom. The second is, we want justice. We want equal justice under the law, and we want justice applied equally to all, regardless of race or class or color. And the third is that we want equality. We want equal membership in society with the best in civilized society. If we can get that within the political, economic, social system of America, there’s no need for point number four. But if we cannot get along in peace after giving America 400 years of our service and sweat and labor, then, of course, separation would be the solution to our race problem.”

For more on the Nation, click here.

from the National Archives website:

From June through October 1973 and briefly during the spring of 1974, John H. White, a 28-year-old photographer with the Chicago Daily News, worked for the federal government photographing Chicago, especially the city’s African-American community. As White reflected recently, he saw his assignment as “an opportunity to capture a slice of life, to capture history.”

Today, John White is a staff photographer with the Chicago Sun-Times. He has won hundreds of awards, and his work has been exhibited and published widely. In 1982 he received the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography.

I am a big fan of John H. White’s photography.  He has that magic ability to tell a whole story with one frame.  click here for his website