It is interesting to compare and contrast two American icons such as Mohammad Ali and Malcolm X as although they were similar in many ways, their lives took drastically different paths. Both men had the qualities associated with many of the other icons, both were very controversial and outspoken but what is most striking about these two icons is that they were close friends at one stage.
Of course there are the obvious similarities which exist between the two men in that they were both African American Muslims growing up in America during a period that was extremely difficult for black Americans. Both men also changed their birth given names as they believed it was a slave name given to them by white men. It is also known that neither had an easy upbringing as neither were well off and Malcolm X’s father was killed by white supremacists and his mother was placed in a mental hospital. Both men had a particular way with words also which no doubt helped them to achieve their status as icons.
One particular similarity which also adds to their iconic image was their determination to speak up for what they believed in even if it was not what everyone wanted to hear. Eric Foner’s book speaks of this when describing freedom of speech during this period and this desire to speak up for your beliefs is common among American icons.
Malcolm X was a human rights activist and was seen as a very courageous man by his supporters. Ali, being the youngest ever heavyweight champion of the world was also seen as extremely brash and brave taking on the heavyweight elite. Both had radical views within their own lives in it is probable no coincidence, since both were also Muslim, that their paths did cross when Ali decided to join the Nation of Islam in 1964.
The main difference between the two men is where they ended up. Malcolm X left the Nation of Islam and 3 years later was assassinated by 3 of it’s members. Mohammad Ali continued his boxing career and is still alive today.
Their legacies are also similar. Malcolm X has been described as one of the greatest and most influential African Americans in history. He is credited with raising the self-esteem of black Americans and reconnecting them with their African heritage. In the late 1960s, as black activists became more radical, Malcolm X and his teachings were part of the foundation on which they built their movements. Ali is also a huge role model in America and an example to people everywhere. In 1993, the Associated Press reported that Ali was tied with Babe Ruth as the most recognized athlete, out of over 800 dead or alive athletes, in America. The 2001 movie, Ali, received an Oscar nomination for Will Smith’s portrayal of the lead role. Both men are clearly American icons for a number of reasons and this is still despite all the controversy which surrounded them such as Ali’s rufusal to fight in Vietnam and Malcolm X’s black supremacist beliefs.