Floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee, Muhammad Ali made his way right here to San Diego for a major fight, but not without leaving a lasting impact.
Muhammad Ali visits San Diego in1967
On June 25, 1967, anchorman Harold Keen and cameraman Carl Gilman were on assignment to interview Muhammad Ali. He was in San Diego as part of a nationwide tour to spread the word of Elijah Muhammad. A large crowd was gathered to see him and when the TV 8 newswagon arrived, they were suddenly surrounded by several dozen people who shouted at them to leave. Keen was struck in the back of the head by a fist and Gilman was kicked. Ali and lightweight heavyweight champion Archie Moore came to their rescue. Both were slightly battered and bruised and the newswagon was heavily damaged.
In his script from June 26, 1967, Keen wrote: “Cameraman Carl Gilman and I were slugged and kicked — fortunately with no serious injury — last night as we arrived at Ocean View Park in southeast San Diego to interview Cassius Clay, the deposed worlds’ heavyweight champion, in town on an unheralded visit. We did manage this interview after Clay, known by his Black Muslim name of Muhammad Ali, brought the crowd under control.”
The first interview after the incident, Keen asks Ali why he was in San Diego. He tells him he’s going to preach at Muhammad’s Mosque at 25th and Imperial. He tells Keen Islam causes peace and it brings dignity to the black man. He explains he doesn’t appreciate violence and he had to bring a stop to it even if it meant getting a little rough with the ones who started it. Keen asked if he felt like he lost popularity because of his battle with the government over the draft — he calls out to the crowd “who’s the heavyweight champion of the world?” They erupt in cheers, showing their appreciation for the champ. In a quieter setting, Ali explains what it means to serve his country. The interview picks up again with Archie Moore by his side. They discuss Archie’s ABC (Any Boy Can) program.
On June 28, 1967, Keen interviews Ali again before his appearance at the mosque. They discuss the draft and how it relates to religious beliefs. Without crowds, he is very subdued.
Muhammad Ali speaks at Muhammad’s Mosque
Muhammad Ali returned to San Diego to speak before a crowd of more than 500 people at Muhammed’s Mosque Number 8 at 2575 Imperial Avenue. There was the strictest security by local Muslims for Ali’s appearance, and no white people were allowed. Channel 8 television’s newsreel cameraman was the only person allowed to take motion pictures film of the boxing champion’s appearance. These films were taken by Sherman S. Skeete inside the mosque.
Ali was escorted to the mosque platform by uniformed Muslims to be met and introduced to the audience by Minister Henry 14-X. Ali was described as a most eloquent speaker whose remarks were greeted with great enthusiasm. Ali told the audience to have pride in itself and stand tall. Ali said the large crowd indicated this sort of gathering should have been happening 36 years ago.
Muhammad Ali flies into San Diego from Los Angeles
On July 18, 1967, Cassius Clay, now known as Muhammad Ali, flew into San Diego from Los Angeles to obtain documents confirming his role in calming down a crowd in southeast San Diego after Gilman and Keen were pummeled as they tried to interview him. He said he needed the documents to prove his peaceful intentions at a federal court hearing where he sought permission to leave the country for personal appearances in Japan. He needed permission because he was free on bond while appealing his 5-year conviction for refusing to serve in the armed forces. At the airport, Keen asked Ali about the racial violence in the country.
Muhammad Ali in San Diego to fight Ken Norton for world heavyweight title in 1973
On March 20, 1973, In this exclusive film we see the former heavyweight champ of the world arrive in San Diego with his family. His home base would be at the Le Baron Hotel in Mission Valley. CBS 8’s Jerry Gross greets him and asks him about his family and predictions for the March 31 fight. Ali and Ken Norton get weighed in – Ali at 221 pounds and Norton at 210. Ever the showman, Ali holds up the championship belt and exclaims “this belt looks right on me—no George Foreman!”
On March 21, at a press conference, Harold Keen tells him the widow of a navy captain was threatening to boycott the fight because she was upset that Ali failed to serve his country in time of war. He defends his actions in a fiery response. As for the fight, he said he wasn’t going to lose, and he wasn’t worried about it. At the Le Baron, he threw punches at Archie Moore protégé, Ben Carpenter, a Golden Gloves winner in the heavyweight division. He played with some children and commented on Ken Norton’s crowding style. On March 31, at the San Diego Sports Arena, underdog Ken Norton scored a split-decision, upset victory over Ali.
Muhammad Ali said, “these men are here to interview me—leave them alone.”
Floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee, back in 1973 Muhammad Ali made his way right here to San Diego for a major fight, but not without leaving a lasting impact. Take a look at CBS 8’s Marcus Greaves interview with former CBS 8 photojournalist Carl Gilman in a CBS 8 special celebrating Black history.