*Last night I finally saw the original Amazon movie, One Night In Miami, and glad I did! Centered around the Sonny Liston vs. Cassius Clay world heavyweight championship title fight in February 1964, this drama film – directed by (first time out director) Regina King; screenplay by Kemp Powers – was able to capture a perspective of that era that I often think about. The setting was a fictional hotel room meeting of the main characters – Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir); Cassius Clay (Eli Goree); Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge); and Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.).
Staged in Miami, Florida, we listened to the fight on the radio. Clay was not favored to win. My father, uncle and their friends favored Liston and considered Clay a loudmouth 22-year old youngster who didn’t have a chance against his 32-year old opponent. I figured they knew what they were talking about – my Uncle Fred had recently taken me to a gym to see Archie Moore (the longest reigning World Light Heavyweight Champion of all time) sparring in the ring. What a sight!
I was age 10. My family had moved from Detroit to Los Angeles just two years earlier after my seven-week old brother died. Although it had only been three months since President Kennedy was assassinated, it was still a time pregnant with promise for a Black boy to be transplanted from a dismal factory town where most homes were still spouting dark gray smoke from their chimneys, to the sunshine state of California!
All I knew about Sam Cooke when we left Detroit was a few songs like “Cupid” (which I loved and sang all the time), “Twistin’ The Night Away” and “Chain Gang.” By the time we moved, his voice had become grittier with songs like “Bring It On Home To Me,” “Havin’ A Party,” “Good Times” and “Somebody Have Mercy.” I loved his music; it did something to me, and I imagined myself one day singing and recording like him. I even made up a song patterned after “Another Saturday Night.” I had no idea the impact he was making in the music world, and on me as I grew older.
At that time, I knew nothing about Malcolm X, and scarcely knew about Dr. King. In my father’s eyes they were radicals, and as I looked up to him, he formed my opinions. My father did not like football, so I never watched the game; never paid any attention to Jim Brown – but this movie brought it all together for me. All those guys were at the top of their game, and Malcolm X brought to fore how Clay (who won the World Heavyweight Champion title then converted to Islam and was given the name Muhammad Ali), Cooke (who had a million dollar contract with RCA and had his own independent record label and publishing company) and Brown (considered the greatest NFL running back of all time) should use their fame and fortune to further the Negro cause for equality. He told them in essence; “No matter how much money you got, you’re still a nigger!”
At 10 years old, I was writing speeches and pounding on the table mimicking JFK; I was trying to write and sing like Sam Cooke; I had all these hopes and dreams! Then, what started with JFK, and continued on with the murder of Sam Cooke in December 1964, the murder of Malcolm X in February 1965, my hopes and dreams began to diminish. The word “murder” had dampened my spirit with despair, and I questioned “Is this what happens to people who dare to dream and achieve?”
Today, when young people watch movies like “Roots” or “Twelve Years A Slave,” they make comments like, “If I was back in those days, I wouldn’t take that!” What they don’t realize is we’re still “taking it” even now! How much celebrity, fortune and fame will it take for Blacks and other races – as we’re seeing now in the Asian community – to be recognized as equals, and given the respect and dignity we all, as human beings, deserve?
The message in this movie is about the sacrifices the characters made, at whatever the cost, even unto death, to make a difference. Although I have accomplished a few things that I’m proud of, this reminder challenged me to seek the Lord to renew my strength, and to use everything within my power to fight for justice, righteousness and all that is well-pleasing in God’s sight! How about you?
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Larry Buford is a Los Angeles-based contributing writer. Author of “Things Are Gettin’ Outta Hand” and “Book To The Future” (Amazon); two insightful books that speak to our moral conscience in times like these. Email: [email protected]