Outtakes of Nation of Islam (NOI) rally, 369th Regiment Armory, 142nd Street and 8th Avenue, Harlem, N. Y., June 28, 1964, addressed by NOI leader Elijah Muhammad (formerly Poole) and heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad “The Pied Piper of Harlem,” Ali (formerly Cassius Clay).The rally was interpreted by the press as a challenge by the leader of the conservative, “race”-centered separatist group to Malcolm X (formerly Little), Muhammad’s former national representative and New York minister, on the latter’s “home ground.” On March 8, 1964, Malcolm X had broken with the NOI over “internal differences” and formed the militant Muslim Mosque, Inc. (MMI), a black nationalist, and later Sunni Islamic, group, headquartered at Harlem’s famed Hotel Theresa, 7th Avenue at 125th Street.
The next month, Malcolm X made a hajj, or religious pilgrimage, to Islam’s holy cities of Mecca and Medina, Saudi Arabia, where he rejected the NOI’s version of Islam and embraced “True Islam.”
After visiting Lebanon in early May, Malcolm X toured or stopped over at seven North and West African nations, including Ghana, where he established with Western “black” expatriates a secular pan-Africanist group, later named the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU).
Tensions were high in “The Capital of Black America” on the day Muhammad visited because the New York branch of the OAAU was to be founded at a public rally held that evening at the Audubon Ballroom, 166th Street and Broadway at nearby Washington Heights. Outside the NOI rally, two “black” men were savagely beaten by members of the group’s Fruit of Islam (FOI) — one because he was mistakenly thought to be “with Malcolm,” the other because he was a Muhammad critic.
Without mentioning Malcolm X by name, Muhammad condemned his call for “black” Americans to defend themselves and their property — with arms, if necessary — against racist violence. Like most of the press, Muhammad mischaracterized Malcolm X’s advocacy as “aggressive” rather than defensive and suggested it was to be directed against ALL “whites” rather than “white” attackers.
The young Ali, who, as he crowed, “shook up the world” with his Feb. 25 upset victory over Charles (Sonny) Liston and created additional tremors by revealing his membership in the NOI the next day, was introduced by Philbert X (formerly Little, later Shabazz, finally Abdul-aziz Omar; right, 00:31), minister of the NOI mosques at Flint, Grand Rapids, Lansing and Muskegon, Mich.
Along with Wilfred X (formerly Little, later Shabazz), minister of Muhammad’s Mosque No. 1, Detroit, Minister Philbert was an older brother of Malcolm X. On March 26, Minister Philbert agreed to be flown to NOI headquarters at Chicago to read a statement drafted by NOI National Secretary John Ali (formerly 11X, formerly Simmons), which Minister Philbert sharpened in last-minute changes and replies to reporters’ questions. He compared Malcolm X with “Judas, Brutus, [and] Benedict Arnold” and questioned his sanity. Like Minister Philbert, Muhammad Ali publicly denounced Malcolm X, formerly his mentor and close friend. However, despite Muhammad’s pressures, Minister Wilfred refused to follow suit.
Muhammad Ali began his remarks with the Arabic greeting, As-Salaam-Alaikum (“Peace be unto you”). After noting that he had cut short his own African tour (originally to be made with Malcolm X), where he had audiences with Ghanaian President Kwame Nkrumah and Egyptian President Gamal Abdel-Nasser, Ali, with the assistance of Elijah Muhammad, Jr. (3:17), the assistant supreme captain of the FOI, presented Muhammad with a solid-gold model of a mosque from Egypt’s Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (4:33).
Despite Minister Wilfred’s refusal to repudiate Malcolm X, he, along with Minister Philbert, felt obliged to symbolically stand with Muhammad at the close of the rally (5:17; Minister Philbert is at the left of the podium; Minister Wilfred, wearing glasses, is at the right). The video ends with Minister Philbert asking audience members to remain in their seats.
Malcolm X closed his own meeting with an appeal to Muhammad: “If he is the leader of the Muslims and the leader of our people, then lead us against our enemies, don’t lead us against each other.”
Other NOI officials appearing in this video are (from left at 2:23): Lonnie Shabazz (formerly X, formerly Cross, later Abdulalim Abdullah Shabazz), minister of Mosque No. 4, Washington, D. C. (seated, 2d from left); Rahman Ali (formerly Rudolph Valentino Clay), Muhammad Ali’s older brother (standing, right of Minister Philbert); James Shabazz (formerly 3X, formerly McGregor, later Shabazz), interim minister of Mosque No. 7-A, Harlem, and minister of Mosque No. 25, Newark, N. J. (seated, glasses); Louis X (formerly Walcott, later Farrakhan), minister of Muhammad’s Mosque No. 11, Boston (seated, right of Minister James); and John Ali (standing, right). Muhammad’s son Herbert (later Jabir) is at 4:20 (right).
Here’s the video of Muhammad Ali and Elijah Muhammad:
Did you see Muhammad Ali when he was in Harlem?
Photo credit: 1) Muhammad Ali. 2) Muhammad Ali and Elijah Muhammad video.