The day after that first fight with Liston, Cassius Clay had a new name. «My name is not Cassius Clay now,» he said. «It’s Muhammad Ali.»
Ali’s family was unhappy about this. His father, «Cash Clay, and his mother were good Christian people. Their two sons were always good Christians, too. They loved their mother and father and had a happy home.
«What’s wrong with the name ‘Clay’?» his father asked. «It’s a good name. It’s our name.»
«Clay is a white man’s name,» Ali said. «We have that name because our family worked for Mr. Clay, a white man. Our family came from Africa, and I would like a new name, a ‘black’ name. And from today, I’m going to be a Muslim, because in the U.S. white people are Christians, My black brothers are Muslims and I’m going to be a Muslim, too.»
Later that year Ali visited Egypt and Africa. He talked to Muslims there. «There are Muslims of all colors in the world,» he said. «I know that now. Our problem in the U.S. is only with the bad white people there.» But he liked his new Muslim name and he stayed a Muslim.
Fifteen months later, he and Sonny Liston fought again. This time Liston was on his face on the floor in the first round. Muhammad Ali was the world-boxing champion.
In 1967, the U.S. Army was in Vietnam. Thousands of young Americans, white and black, went into the U.S. Army and fought the Vietcong. The U.S. government called Muhammad Ali and said, «Your country wants you in the army. You have to go to Vietnam.»
Ali answered, «I’m a Muslim and Muslims want peace. They don t fight and kill people. Who are the Vietcong? They don’t want to kill me, and I don’t want to kill them. I’m not going to go into the army!»
This was a big problem. The U.S. government said, «Go into the army, or go to jail.» The American people were angry with Ali, and they really didn’t like him. «You can’t box in the U.S. You can’t be world champion,» the government said. «And you can’t go and box in other countries.» But Ali didn’t go into the army.
«I’m a boxer,» he said. «I fight people because that’s my job. But I don’t kill people.»
Ali didn’t box for two years. He talked to students in schools and got a little money. He talked about peace in Vietnam. «The fighting in Vietnam is wrong,» he always said.
The government didn’t send him to jail, but he didn’t have much money. Then in 1970 the U.S. government said, «You can box again.»
But there was a new world champion now, Joe Frazier.