Arts and Culture

In “Blood Brothers: The Fatal Friendship Between Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X,” authors Johnny Smith and Randy Roberts dive into the close and complicated friendship of Ali and Malcolm.

Incidentally, I spoke with co-author Johnny Smith several hours prior to Ali’s death on Friday. Smith said it wasn’t always easy to find information about interactions between the two men, largely because they often met in secret. He said Ali and Malcolm’s friendship was more complicated than most people realize.

Listen to our conversation in the audio player above.

On the difficulty in researching for the book:

“Cassius Clay — between the time he met Malcolm X in June of 1962 and the time he becomes heavyweight champion in 1964 — he was not telling the public about his relationship with Malcolm and the Nation of Islam because at that time, the Nation was viewed by most Americans as a hate cult. And so, that’s proved challenging for biographers who are trying to learn more about this relationship because of the difficulty of getting sources, getting access to their story.”

On how the friendship went public:

“What happens is, gradually over the course of 1963, as his relationship deepens with Malcolm X, he starts to reveal his true feelings about race in America. He tells the press in March of 1963 that the NAACP is ignorant, that he believes in ‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth’ — and suddenly reporters are wondering, where is this coming from. Well, it’s coming from the fact that he was meeting with Malcolm X, he was attending these rallies with the Nation of Islam and having meetings with other ministers in the Nation as well.”

“Blood Brothers: The Fatal Friendship Between Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X” by Johnny Smith and Randy Roberts was published in February.

Ali died late Friday at a Phoenix hospital of septic shock after battling respiratory problems. He was 74.

Bill Burton is the Morning Edition host for WFPL News.