‘One Night in Miami’: The truth behind its meeting of Malcolm X, Jim Brown, Sam Cooke and the future Muhammad Ali
Among them, the bold and flamboyant Cassius Clay (quickly to alter his name to Muhammad Ali) had actually simply won the world heavyweight boxing champion in an upset at age 22. Another, prominent civil liberties activist Malcolm X, was weighing a split from the Country of Islam. Together with NFL star Jim Brown and soul vocalist Sam Cooke, they collected at the Hampton Home, a popular hotel amongst Black celebs at the time.
But in the movie, the relationship between fact and fiction is complicated.
What actually happened at the hotel that night?
Much of the rest of the movie, which mostly takes place in Malcolm X’s hotel room, was invented.
The result is a night of passionate debate about religion, opportunity and their responsibilities as famous figures in fighting for equality for Black Americans. In the movie, the four men emerge from their combative night with a renewed commitment to the fight against racial injustice.
“It seems to me like perfect grist for the mill for a dramatic piece where these four titans are trapped in a room together, the idea being that the room becomes a ring with this four-way match.”
Did Clay really announce his conversion to Islam soon after?
Yes. In the movie, Clay tells a group of reporters at the hotel after the fight that he’s changing his name to Cassius X, describing Cassius Clay as a “slave name.”
At that news conference, he also said he opposed integration — a controversial stance at the height of the fight for equality.
“I don’t have to be what you want me to be,” he said. “I’m free to be who I want. I want to be with my own kind.”
Ali later parted ways with the Nation of Islam and embraced mainstream Islam. The three-time heavyweight champ, one of the most indelible figures of the 20th century, died five years ago at age 74.
What happened to the friendship between Clay and Malcolm X?
The movie shows the beginning of its end.
By early 1964 Malcolm X had grown disillusioned with Elijah Muhammad and wanted to form his own Muslim organization. In the movie he urges Clay to join him, but Clay becomes resentful, accusing Malcolm of using the boxer’s growing celebrity for his own ends.
By all historical accounts, the two men never met again.
Did his debate with Malcolm X inspire Sam Cooke to record ‘A Change is Gonna Come’?
No. In the movie, Malcolm X slams Cooke for not using his music in the fight for racial justice. Cooke responds by telling him about a song he’d written about civil rights.
Did that night lead Jim Brown to retire from the NFL?
Unlikely. The movie makes it seem like Brown retired from football soon after that night to focus on his budding acting career. In truth, he played two more full seasons. The Cleveland Browns won the NFL championship in December 1964 — the last pro title won by any Cleveland team until LeBron James’ Cavaliers did it in 2016.
The only one of the famous foursome still alive, Brown just turned 85.
Did they really eat ice cream?
Jobber Wiki author Frank Long contributed to this report.