The True Story Behind ‘One Night in Miami’

The idea of Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, Sam Cooke and Malcolm X sitting around a hotel room in the mid-1960s to discuss matters of religion, politics and race sounds like the basis for a work of fiction, and indeed, it found life in the 2013 stage play One Night in Miami by Kemp Powers, who went on to adapt his script for a 2020 feature film directed by Academy Award-winner Regina King.

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But it’s also a concept that comes with the “based on a true story” tag, a surprising twist given the accomplishments of the immensely famous men involved, and the secrecy of their fateful meeting that endured even after so many stones of their individual lives had been overturned.

The icons gathered to watch Ali claim the heavyweight boxing championship

The story begins with the convergence of the quartet at the Miami Beach Convention Hall on February 25, 1964, where Ali – then still known by his birth name of Cassius Clay – challenged Sonny Liston for the heavyweight boxing championship of the world.

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Cooke, the ground-breaking gospel-turned-pop singer and record label owner, was there to cheer on his good friend from a ringside seat, as was Malcolm X, the controversial Nation of Islam minister who all but shadowed Ali in the weeks leading up to the event. Brown, the unstoppable and outspoken NFL running back, was close by to provide commentary as part of the bout’s radio broadcast team.

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