An African-American, Major Benjamin Coxson was a flamboyant underworld figure -- a car thief, a gangland fixer and a candidate for the mayor of Camden. Underworld sources claim the Muslims ordered Coxson killed for failing to broker a major heroin deal between the New York Mafia and the local Muslim mob. He was murdered by Philadelphia's Muslim mob along with his companion Louise Luby, and her daughter, Lita, at his home in Cherry Hill NJ on June 8, 1973.
Philadelphia crime figure Ronald Harvey, who was convicted of the Nation of Islam-ordered murder of two women and five children in Washington DC in January of 1973, is suspected of carrying out the murder of Major Coxon and the Lubys. Harvey was never charged with the crime however, and died in prison.
MAJOR COXSON & MUHAMMAD ALI
Originally printed in SOUTH JERSEY MAGAZINE in 2002
As Muhammad Ali turns 60, and Will Smith turns into Muhammad Ali, we visit a simpler time, a time of truth and consequences, a time when the once and future champ of the world lived on Barbara Drive, just off the park in Cherry Hill. It was almost 30 years ago when Maury Z. Levy, then editorial director of Philadelphia Magazine, sat down to talk to a local hero. Here's part two of how it went.
He is, Muhammad Ali, bigger than life, bigger than the Beatles, bigger than the Pope. Yet he is playing this whole fame thing as coolly as he can. And evidently he is playing it right, because he is still alive and well and living in Cherry Hill.
Ali's been living in the area for most of his exile, right on through his return to the ring. The man most responsible for bringing him here is Major Benjamin Coxson, who is the furthest thing you could find from a Black Muslim. Coxson is a colorful local black businessman. No one is quite sure just what business it is he's in, but he's doing very well at it, when he isn't in trouble with the law.
Coxson is now in the process of running for mayor of Camden, something he considers a necessary step on the road to the governorship. Coxson says he is running on his record. "Most politicians end up in jail anyway," he says, "so I've got a head start."
Coxson met Ali somewhere around 1968, when Ali couldn't get a fight. "I wanted to see if I could take on the challenge of getting him a fight," the Major says. "I called every governor in the country. I got a lot of bull. I figured I'd go down south. At least I'd get a straight answer. I contacted John Williams, the governor of Mississippi. He had one arm. He didn't know if I was black or white. I went down there with Gene Kilroy. Gene is white. He was selling telephones in briefcases. He sold one to me and I later got him a job with Ali.
"Well, we went down to Mississippi and we got into the governor's office because they thought Gene was me. Anyway, we set up a fight and came back to Philadelphia and called a press conference at the Bellevue to announce it. But the U.S. government stepped in and said if Mississippi let the fight go on, they'd withdraw all their funds. So that killed that." It didn't quite happen that way, but the Major has always been good at embellishing stories.
Coxson met Ali driving one of his fleet of fancy cars down 52nd Street when Coxson was still living in Philadelphia. There was a lot of hell being raised by the Black Coalition, led by Jeremiah X, a minister and former classmate of Coxson's at Ben Franklin High. Ali saw Coxson's car and told him he admired it. Coxson invited him out to his house at 72nd and City Avenue to see the rest of the collection.
"I had the proper things," Coxson says. "You just can't overlook them. We saw more of each other. We've become closer than friends. We're like brothers now."
It wasn't only Coxson's cars that Ali admired. He ended up buying his house. It's not every house that has carpets and chandeliers in the garage. Coxson, who had demonstrated his dexterity with money matters, became somewhat of an advisor for Ali.
"When he was getting ready to fight Frazier," the Major says, "I saw where the City of Philadelphia was going to take 90-some thousand dollars in city wage tax out of his purse because he lived in Philadelphia. So I saw a way to move him to New Jersey to beat the City out of their money.
"I was just finishing up a house in Cherry Hill and it was perfect for him. He's such an unbelievable man. I should be Muhammad Ali for a week. There's nothing he couldn't do or nothing he couldn't be if he made his mind up about it. And he's such a good-natured guy, you've got to watch out for him. A lot of people will show him things and think he'll go along."
Is he that easily manipulated?
"No," Coxson says. "I said he was good-natured. I didn't say he was an idiot."
THE COXSON-ALI fondness is mutual. Ali kiddingly refers to Coxson as "the gangster." At least I think he's kidding. "The Major made me move to Philadelphia," Ali says. "At least his house did. I bought the place with money I made from college lectures and TV appearances. And I was really getting set never to fight again. So this was a nice home, nice neighborhood, prosperous-looking, to reside in forever.
"Philadelphia was a good town. I wanted to get out of Chicago because I was in New York twice a week and I found myself living in airplanes, which I hate. New York was too busy. And Newark and Trenton, I looked in those places but there was nothing I liked. So I stayed with Philly.
"But after I started to fight again, the house got small. We had another child or two. So then the Major showed me another house in Cherry Hill, this big, beautiful Spanish hacienda. I went and looked at it and didn't like it because I figured it was too far from Philly. I like to live around people and everything. But I got to start hanging around with the Major a lot over there he lives down the block and I got to like the peace and serenity of it, being away from the people.
"The house needed a lot of work done to it, so I put another $150,000 into it. Plus I paid $115,000. And I made a little mansion out of it. I've got a lot of land. There's an acre-a-half around it. And now I've got that house up for sale.
"We're working on another deal. Still around Cherry Hill. A 65-acre farm with a house on it, horses, barns and everything. My wife Belinda likes horses and I'd like to have a couple of milk cows. A little garden for myself, maybe. Probably grow cabbage, string beans, tomatoes. Just a hobby like. Maybe the Major'll teach me how to grow money.
"The Major's some man, I tell you. I get on Johnny Carson and talk about him. I tell Howard Cosell about him after my fights. My telephone! Where's my telephone? Let me show you something else the Major got me for nothing."
An aid brings over one of his briefcase telephones. Ali starts pushing some buttons and yelling, "Mobile operator! Mobile operator!
"You can be in your car or just walking around and you can talk to anybody in the world. Major Coxson. I run into him, he had one, he got me one. He's somethin'."
All this was after the U.S. government decided to strip his title and his dignity after Ali refused to go into the Army, citing his newfound status as a Muslim preacher and the Islamic teachings against war. "Anyway," he said, "I ain't got no quarrels with the Viet Congs."
His draft resistance cost him his title and his right to fight. He had taken the hard way out. There was no way Muhammad Ali would have ever seen combat. The Army would have done with him what they did with another heavyweight champ, Joe Louis.
They would have hired a special plane to take him around to different bases to put on exhibitions for the guys. They'd ask him to tell a few stories, throw a few punches and leave. He would have been a black Bob Hope. It became a matter of principles. Ali kept his principles but lost the fight.
In the years of the layoff, the bottom almost fell out. There's a story around about a plumber who had done a job at Ali's house in Philadelphia. One day the plumber came knocking at the door holding Ali's check in his fist. The check had bounced. "I'm sorry," Ali told him, "that's the way it is. I have no money."
Whatever money he did have over those years was drawn from personal appearances. "I spent a lot of time on the Johnny Carson show," he says. "I hated every minute of it. What a bunch of bull. All that kissin' and laughin'. All them actresses with the funny accents talkin' about their poodles."
Ali even tried his mouth at the Broadway stage. He starred in a play called Big Time Buck White. It lasted seven performances before closing. And then finally, in 1970, just when everybody was counting him out, he won his case against the Army. His boxing license was restored. There was immediately talk of the fight of the century, an undefeated Ali against the then undefeated champ Joe Frazier. Frazier was in no hurry for such a fight. But Ali hounded him.
Both Ali and Frazier were doing their training in Philadelphia. And both were doing some running in Fairmount Park. One day they almost ran into each other. Ali threw up his fists and started making like he wanted to fight it out right there.
"You really think you can whup me?" Ali asked.
"I'll whup Mamma if she try to take my title," Frazier said.
"I think you mean that, Frazier."
"You doggone right I do."
"Well, let's get it on right here." Ali put up his fists and started flicking his left. Frazier got unnerved. That's just what Ali wanted.
"Not here," Frazier said, "not in private. You show up at the PAL gym and well see who the real champ is."
Ali showed up. So did 1,000 fans and the police. The police suggested they take it outside, back to Fairmount Park. By now the crowd had doubled. Ali had a pretty good audience.
"He wants to show he can whup me," Ali shouted. "He says he's the champ. Let him prove it here in the ghetto where the colored folks can see it."
Frazier never showed. Ali seemed very mad.
"Here I am," he yelled. "I haven't had a fight in three years, I'm 25 pounds overweight, and Joe Frazier won't show up. What kind of a champ can he be?"
In the months that followed, Ali would find that out.
The Ali-Frazier fight was the biggest money match in history, each fighter guaranteed $2.5 million. It was a meeting of undefeated champions. It would answer the question everyone had been asking for years: Did Ali still have it in him?
The answer was yes. Except on that night in Madison Square Garden, he didn't have quite enough. A more conditioned Frazier wore him down. By the late rounds, Ali's legs started to give out. He was just plain tired. And that's where he lost the fight, in those late rounds. On most people's scorecards it was a very close fight. There are those who say that Ali won. Unfortunately, none of them were judges for the fight.
Frazier, still the champ, went into the hospital right after the fight. He won but he had paid for it. No one was saying just what was wrong with Frazier. There was some talk of a blood circulation problem caused by Ali's punches. Was Frazier really all right? The answer wasn't to come until almost two years later.
MEANWHILE, Ali went back to camp, having to face still another comeback. This time things were a little different. Somehow, the beautiful people were gone. And all those stories about Ali that kept popping up just about stopped. He was over 30 and, some people thought, over the hill.
Right before the Frazier fight, there had been 600 newsmen hounding Ali for interviews. Now, in the deserted pines of his Deer Lake Pocono training camp, Ali was alone. He missed the people and he missed the publicity. The idea to start this story came from Ali's camp. It was the first time, as far as anybody knows, that Muhammad Ali had to ask for a story to be written about him.
The phone call came from Gene Kilroy, the Major's old friend. "Listen," Kilroy said, "come on up, Muhammad wants to see you."
Ali was happy to see anybody. We sat in his trailer and talked a lot. He did most of the talking. It was getting very late and I started to leave to go back to the motel. I told him we'd have plenty of time to talk the next day. I was afraid of wearing out my welcome. "Stay where you are," Ali said. "I've got no place to go."
We sat in the trailer and watched a videotape of the Frazier fight. Ali must have seen it a dozen times. It's almost like he's hoping the ending will turn out differently. He moves with the punches. He yells encouragement to himself, as if the little man on the screen were somebody else. We watch all 15 rounds. There is a lot of hollering, a lot of second guessing. And at the end they announce the winner. It is still Joe Frazier.
Not wanting to talk about the fight, Ali just pulls me outside. "You've got to come look at my new bus," he says, taking me around back to see his latest toy. "Just look at this," he beams. "It's got toilets and a bedroom and everything. I even drive it sometimes. What do you think?"
"I think maybe I'll give up writing and become heavyweight champ," I tell him.
"My man," he says, slapping me on the back, "you be the fighter and I be the writer."
I've made a friend. We make plans to meet early the next day. "You know," he says, "most of the guys who come up here to interview me, they don't really want to hear what I have to say. They just want to have their picture taken with me or get in the ring and spar a little bit so they can tell their friends they fought the champ. But you don't want to do that, do you?"
"No," I say, lying.
"You're all right," he says, slapping me on the back again. "You're not as dumb as you look."
There are those who think Ali talks too much and brags too much. They think it's all going to slap him in the face someday, that he doesn't really know what he's doing. Ali has a different story.
"You got to please a lot of people," he says, "because that's what they pay to see. Gorgeous George was a wrassler. He entertained them. 'I'm pretty.' He knew what they wanted. 'I can't lose.' And he got everybody going his way. Now who's the fool? Them. He's the wise one. He's leading the whole world. He knows just what to take, just what to give.
"And I know what I'm doing. I have a goal. And I'm determined. I've drunk the wine of success. The government can take away my title. And they did. Jail was right on me. The money was gone. I couldn't fight no real fights. No commissions. Couldn't box exhibitions. I still didn't give up, man. I've been too successful.
"From 12 years old, I've been the U.S. Golden Gloves champ twice, world AAU champ, Olympic champ, Pan American. I don't know failure. And they said, 'You can't fight.' And I said I'm not worried about it. And I just kept going. I knew something was gonna happen. Wise men know all. And that's me.
"Did you know the wisest men in history were illiterates? Men like Jesus, Moses, Lot and Noah. They were illiterates. Now why did God come to Moses, who couldn't read or write? Why did God come to Moses, who couldn't even talk? Aaron had to talk for him. Check history.
"Who is Elijah Muhammad? How is he converting pimps and drug pushers? Buying airplanes and factories and uniting black people. Teaching them the language, the culture. Who is Elijah Muhammad? He's never been to school.
"See, who is Muhammad Ali? I barely got out of school in Louisville. It's on the record that they put me out because I was gonna be the Olympic champion. I can't read and write now.
"Then where is this stuff coming from that I challenge anybody to match with his wisdom? It didn't come from no libraries. It didn't come from no schools.
"Now people say I done a lot of things besides boxing. Stood up to the draft and all. Helped kids in hospitals. I don't boast about that. Wise men never boast. You never forget where you came from. The house I was raised in cost $4,000. I got a motor scooter that took me all through school, all through my amateur career. That motor scooter cost $35 and we never had enough money to pay for it.
"I never bought mink coats or drove around in limousines with chauffeurs because I remember who I was. I remember my people. I only have one suit now. I can afford to buy the store. But the greatest men in history were humble.
"If Jesus came to town tonight, he wouldn't be staying at the Waldorf Astoria hotel. He'd be up in Harlem somewhere trying to get somebody off drugs. Wise men are humble. They don't boast. Elijah Muhammad told me that. Never forget where you came from."
MUHAMMAD ALI has never forgotten where he came from. Now he's trying to figure out where he's going.
It's just another morning in Deer Lake. The orange sun crawls up over the hills and burns off the deep purple haze. Down the dirt roads that surround Pollack's Mink Farm, Ali is running alone. Three miles with the wind in his face. He is trying to keep in shape. For what, now he is not quite sure. But he is running. He doesn't talk. He shows no emotion, no fatigue. He is a machine. He finishes his three miles and stops next to a big rock in the grass and takes a few swings at his shadow. He stops and lifts up the waistband of his plastic sweatshirt. Four pounds of water fall out and splash the ground. He sits down on the rock to rest.
"I don't need no world championship," he says. "Everybody knows I'm the number one attraction in the world. I'm the champion of the people. You go into the ghettos and ask them who the champ is. You go anyplace in the world and ask them who the champ is. They'll tell you Muhammad Ali. It don't matter what happens anymore. I'm still the champ."
He sat there alone on the rock. There was nobody there to hear him. He walked up to the highway. Route 61, where the cars were going by at 60 miles an hour. "You hear that?" he shouted. "I am the champ! I am the greatest!" Nobody even slowed down. His face got mean. "Can't you fools hear me?" he yelled.
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