The great Muhammad Ali found himself in close proximity to the Philadelphia Black Mafia in the late 1960s and early 1970s, even dedicating a fight of his to controversial Black Mafia affiliate, east coast racketeer and aspiring politician Major Coxson on national television. Over the weekend, Ali, the iconic three-time heavyweight boxing champion, died at 74 years old after battling Parkinson’s disease for decades. He and Coxson were very good friends and frequent social companions before Coxson, known simply as “The Maj” in some circles, was murdered in gangland fashion (see Sean Patrick Griffin’s Black Brothers, Inc. – The Violent Rise & Fall of Philadelphia’s Black Mafia).

Flashy, boastful, media-friendly and fast-talking just like Ali, Coxson was killed by members of the Black Mafia inside his swanky New Jersey mansion dubbed “The White House”, in 1973, only months removed from losing his bid to become Mayor of Camden, New Jersey an easily-corruptible, crime-ridden town located just outside Philly. In interviews with the media, Ali admitted he moved to the Philadelphia-New Jersey area from Chicago at Coxson’s behest in 1968.

The Philadelphia Black Mafia was founded that same year by convicted felon and former Black Panther Sam Christian and his right-hand man Ron Harvey. The notoriously-vicious organization dabbled in drugs, extortion, gambling and various forms of fraud, using the veil of government-sponsored community betterment and outreach programs as fronts for their illegal mob activity. Many of the Black Mafia’s top lieutenants were part of the Nation of Islam of which Ali (born Cassius Clay) also belonged. FBI records from that era paint a picture of the Nation of Islam acting as a de-facto Black Mafia in its own right.

Coxson was a longtime fixture in the east coast underworld, a wholesale drug dealer, con-artist, Italian mafia associate and alleged murderer with his hands in dozens of legal and illegal business ventures alike with a wide array of partners, the consummate glad-hander. His criminal record was dotted with 17 arrests and 10 convictions. He did two years in federal prison for his role in an interstate stolen car ring (Coxson was believed to have been an FBI informant too).

Ali met and befriended Coxson as he embarked on a tour of college campuses when he was exiled from pro boxing for refusing enlistment in the U.S. military to fight in the Vietnam War. Coxson convinced Ali, raised in Louisville, Kentucky, but living in Chicago early in his fight career, to move east, selling the champ a pair of pristine properties: a leafy estate in the Overbrook section of Philadelphia and a Spanish-style hacienda in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.

Seconds after beating Jerry Quarry in his return to the ring in 1970, Ali grabbed commentator Howard Cosell’s microphone and shouted, “I dedicate this win to Major Coxson, the future Mayor of Camden, New Jersey.” He was wrong. Coxson ended up losing in the 1972 election.

According to his FBI file, Coxson served as the Philadelphia Black Mafia’s liaison to the city’s Italian mob, a crime family led by, the “Docile Don,” Angelo Bruno (who Coxson often dined with), and was the Black Mafia’s main narcotics connection, feeding them high-grade heroin provided to him by legendary kingpin, Frank (Black Caesar) Matthews, who worked simultaneously between Philly, New York, New Jersey and Baltimore. Coxson and several Black Mafia members partnered in a string of high-volume credit-card scams together as well.

Around the same time Coxson was encouraging Ali to move to the east coast, he became the prime suspect in a gruesome double homicide: the murders of Richard Berman and Marilyn Pivnick, which took place inside their trendy Millburn, New Jersey art gallery in April 1968. Both Berman and Pivnick were shot in the head at point blank range, execution style.

Berman and Coxson were co-defendants in an automobile fraud case out of New York. Berman was going to testify against Coxson, who worked at the gallery and told authorities he was with a gallery-owned truck on a delivery to a private residence at the time the murders occurred.

It wasn’t long until Coxson suffered the same fate. A botched one-million dollar heroin deal involving the Philadelphia Black Mafia and New York’s powerful Gambino crime family resulted in Coxson’s murder. At 4:00 a.m. on the morning of June 8, 1973, a hit team headed by Ron Harvey, the No. 1 enforcer for and co-founder of the Black Mafia, busted into Coxson’s mansion, tied him and his family up and shot them all in the head, killing him and his step daughter, wounding his common-law wife and blinding his two stepsons.

Coxson had spent a portion of the day prior with Ali. Black Mafia “Godfather” Sam Christian was arrested for the Coxson double homicide, however, had the charges against him dropped before the case reached trial. The year after the Coxson job, Harvey led a hit team into a Washington D.C. compound owned by NBA Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and killed seven more people (2 adults, 5 children), all belonging to a rival sect of Muslim teachings in opposition to Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam.

Retiring from the ring in 1981, Ali retired to Berrien Springs, Michigan. He lived his final years in Scottsdale, Arizona.

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