Hearts were heavy in many of the citizens of Louisville, KY when it was announced that their hometown hero, Boxing Great Muhammad Ali had died at the age of 74 in a Phoenix, AZ hospital Friday, June 3, 2016 from complications relating to Parkinson’s disease, bringing to a close his most challenging fight.
Although Ali was known and loved throughout the country and the world, there was a special bond that he shared with his hometown. Louisville is the home of the Muhammad Ali Center and just recently, Ali’s childhood home was restored as a museum in his honor. The home is located in West Louisville, the heart of the African American community.
Louisville Metro Mayor Greg Fischer issued a statement about his passing. “The values of hard work, conviction and compassion that Muhammad Ali developed while growing up in Louisville helped him become a global icon. As a boxer, he became The Greatest, though his most lasting victories happened outside the ring. Muhammad leveraged his fame as a platform to promote peace, justice and humanitarian efforts around the world, while always keeping strong ties to his hometown. Today, Muhammad Ali’s fellow Louisvillians join the billions whose lives he touched worldwide in mourning his passing, celebrating his legacy, and committing to continue his fight to spread love and hope. Thank you Muhammad, for all you’ve given your city, your country and the world.”
To honor Ali’s life and work, flags at all Metro Government facilities were lowered to half-staff at 10 a.m. Saturday morning when citizens joined the mayor in a special ceremony.
Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin said, “The final bell has rung for a great Kentucky legend. Thoughts and Prayers go out to the family of Muhammad Ali.” He said on behalf of the Kentucky Boxing and Wrestling Commission, “Ali was more than just the three-time heavyweight champion: he was the Greatest. We are so proud to call him a native son and will work hard to advance the sport he loved. Rest in peace, Champ.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, “Elaine and I are deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Muhammad Ali, one of the preeminent and most beloved athletes of the 20th Century. Inside the ring, he was graceful on his feet and packed a powerful punch. Outside the ring, he thrilled us with his exuberance for life. He was more than just a boxer. He was The Greatest. His life story is an American story, and it’s a story that began in Louisville, KY. He fought his first professional fight there. And Louisville is now that site of the Muhammad Ali Center, which will continue his legacy and preserve his life story for all to experience. Our thoughts are with the Ali family and the dedicated staff at the Ali Center in this time of grief.”
Senator Rand Paul said, “Louisville, KY, America and the World lost a legend. Muhammad Ali became ‘The Greatest’ and lived life of strength, principle and generosity. RIP.”
Congressman John Yarmuth said, “The word champion has never fit a man better. Muhammad Ali was a champion for peace, a champion for justice, and a champion for equality. He was a man who gained fame in a violent game, but immorality as a gentle and caring soul. In the ring, there was no one better, but his contributions to humanity managed to eclipse his boxing prowess.
Yarmuth said he remembers watching every one of his championship fights. “I remember waiting for him at Standiford Field when he returned home after beating Liston, thinking to myself that I had never seen a more perfect human being. And I remember the loud-mouthed speedster by the name of Cassius Marcellus Clay, whose fights in and out of the ring would one day make him Muhammad Ali—a selfless giant who put principles over everything and never forgot the city he called home.
“I am just one of the many in Louisville whose heart aches for the loss of my friend, and yet, every corner of our community is better for his impact. At a time when fame so often comes with questionable character, Muhammad Ali is an ever present reminder that the most famous person in the world can be a real life hero. He really was the greatest.”
He truly was the greatest, especially in his hometown. Growing up in Louisville, many in his age group had the opportunity to attend high school with him, then known as Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr. at Central High School; he babysat for those that lived in his neighborhood on Grand Ave. Even when Ali became the Heavyweight Champion of the World and moved away, he always returned to his hometown. He never forgot where he came from.
Ali’s popularity transcends age and race lines. Young children that were not even born when Ali achieved his greatness in the boxing ring know exactly who he is. Ali often times returned home to speak and interact with area youth from all races and walks of life.
It was in Louisville that Ali first learned of racism. As a small boy, his mother Odessa Grady Clay, a household domestic worker, took her son downtown to the five-and-dime store. She said her son was thirsty and he asked for a drink of water, but the store would not give it to him because of his color. His mother said he started to cry and she calmed him down by taking him to a place where he could get some water. However, she said it really hurt him.
Young Cassius Clay’s bike was stolen when he was 12 years old. It was that incident that led him to take boxing lessons from retired Louisville Police Officer Joe Martin.
When he left Louisville, Ali’s family remained, including the mother that was dear to him. She died August 20, 1994 at the age of 77 in Louisville and was eulogized by local minister Rev. Dr. Kevin Cosby. “One of the greatest honors of my life was when Muhammad Ali asked me to preach the eulogy of his mother Odessa,” said Cosby.
Cosby said, “When I eulogized Ali’s mother, I said Odessa his mother was the root and Ali was the fruit. He (Muhammad Ali) stood on his feet! It was a great honor!”
Ali’s roots were in Louisville, everyone knew he would always return home. Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr.—Muhammad Ali—The Greatest, made his final journey home Sunday, June 5, 2016 in a private plane that carried his body back to his home. A motorcade led him to A. D. Porter & Sons Funeral Home—Southeast on Bardstown Road. Louisville’s Hometown Hero is Home. Plans have been made for all to say their farewells to the Champ.
A Jenazah Service will be held at Freedom Hall at noon Thursday. 14,000 tickets were available on a first come serve basis at the box office on Tuesday at 10 a.m. there was a maximum number of four per request.
The funeral of Ali will take place on Friday, June 10, 2016. The public ceremony will be held at 2 p.m. at the KFC YUM Center in Downtown Louisville. Seating will be limited, with 15,000 tickets available. The distribution, first come first serve, began on Wednesday at 10 a.m. However, for those unable to attend, the service will be streamed live from www.alicenter.org.
Prior to the Friday Service, there will be a procession throughout Louisville to allow the general public to pay their respects. Starting at 9 a.m., the procession will travel northbound on Bardstown Road, westbound on the Watterson Expressway and then north on I-65 to westbound I-64, exiting on the 9th Street Ramp. The procession will then travel west on Muhammad Ali Blvd. to 34th Street, left on 34th Street to Broadway, making a left on Broadway and then traveling to Cave Hill Cemetery. The procession will proceed slowly to allow mourners to pay their respects.
Pallbearers for the funeral will include Will Smith, the Actor who portrayed Ali in the movie ALI; John Grady, Ali’s Cousin; Ibn Ali-Muhammad Ali’s Nephew; Komawi Ali, former brother-in-law; Jerry Ellis, brother of Jimmy Ellis who was Ali’s former sparring partner and a former heavyweight champion of the world, also a Louisville native; Lennox Lewis, former heavy weight champion of the world; Jan Wadell, Ali’s First Cousin; and John Ramsey, Ali family Friend.
Speakers at the Funeral will include Lonnie Ali, Maryum Ali, Rev. Dr. Kevin Cosby, Rabbi Joe Rapport, Actor/Comedian Billy Crystal, Bryant Gumbel, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erogan, King Abdullah II of Jordan, Orrin Hatch, and Former President Bill Clinton, a representative of the Catholic Faith and a representative of the Buddhist Faith.
Many others shared their thoughts on the Greatest. John Johnson, Executive Director of the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights said, “The Kentucky Commission on Human Rights joins Kentucky and the world in mourning the loss of Muhammad Ali and in honoring his memory. As has long been established, he fought with more than his world championship boxing skills. He used his many talents and commitment to also serve others by fighting for equality, integration, mutual respect and understanding, and love among people. He gave much to help the poor and the sick and to make the world a better place. The commission is very proud of Muhammad Ali, its 21st inductee to the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights Gallery of Great Black Kentuckians. He is truly a beloved and cherished great Kentucky son.”
“It is with great sadness that I learned of the passing of Muhammad Ali,” said JCPS Superintendent and Ali Center Board member Dr. Donna Hargens. “Ali was a proud graduate of Central High School and in his younger years, he would often stop by our schools to eat lunch with students, shadow box, perform magic tricks and encourage our students to follow a path to greatness. Ali and JCPS share a vision of excellence and equity, and we will continue to be inspired by his example.”
Oprah Winfrey said, “The world lost a real champion.”
Lennox Lewis said, “Words cannot begin to describe the loss we all face in the passing of one of the greatest citizens this world has ever known. Boxing has lost its greatest ambassador and the world has lost one of its greatest voices.
“Today, we stand far removed from his battles in the ring, but we will never be able to stand far away from the benefits of his battles against discrimination, oppression, hunger and human rights, in America, and around the world.
“His courage to stand up for his beliefs, his people, and his convictions, at a time, in American history, when a messenger like him was sorely needed, separates him from the rest.
Lewis continued, “Ali fought battles that I will never know, so those that came after him, would never have to. He paved the way for the success of ALL of today’s sports superstars and instilled a sense of pride and responsibility inside of me, and generations of youth, around the world.
“He was my source of inspiration, and along with my other hero, Nelson Mandela, served as a shining example of grace, dignity, and courage, through a lifetime of service to others. Those who would question his greatness have no understanding of the technical brilliance he brought into the ring, the courage he displayed outside of it, the voice he gave to the voiceless, or the risk he faced in order to do so.
“Because of Ali, the sport of boxing has given many, including myself, more than they could ever dream of. Ali gave to the sport of boxing, more than it could ever repay!
“My deepest sympathies and prayers go out to the Ali family at this extremely difficult time. We share in your loss, our hearts grieve with your hearts, and our love is here for you to lean on.”
President Barack Obama said, “Muhammad Ali was The Greatest. Period. If you just asked him, he’d tell you. He’d tell you he was the double greatest; that he’d “handcuffed lightning, thrown thunder into jail.”
“But what made The Champ the greatest — what truly separated him from everyone else — is that everyone else would tell you pretty much the same thing.
“Like everyone else on the planet, Michelle and I mourn his passing. But we’re also grateful to God for how fortunate we are to have known him, if just for a while; for how fortunate we all are that The Greatest chose to grace our time.”
President Obama said he keeps a pair of Ali’s gloves on display in his private study, just off the Oval Office. The gloves are under the iconic photograph where 22 year old Ali, a young champ was roaring like a lion over a fallen Sonny Liston. The President said he was too young when it was taken to understand who he was—still Cassius Clay, “already an Olympic Gold Medal winner, yet to set out on a spiritual journey that would lead him to his Muslim faith, exile him at the peak of his power, and set the stage for his return to greatness with a name as familiar to the downtrodden in the slums of Southeast Asia and the villages of Africa as it was to cheering crowds in Madison Square Garden.”
President Obama said Ali wasn’t perfect, of course. “For all his magic in the ring, he could be careless with his words and full of contradictions as his faith evolved. But his wonderful, infectious, even innocent spirit ultimately won him more fans than foes – maybe because in him, we hoped to see something of ourselves. Later, as his physical powers ebbed, he became an even more powerful force for a peace and reconciliation around the world. We saw a man who said he was so mean he’d make medicine sick reveal a soft spot, visiting children with illness and disability around the world, telling them they, too, could become the greatest. We watched a hero light a torch, and fight his greatest fight of all on the world stage once again; a battle against the disease that ravaged his body, but couldn’t take the spark from his eyes.”
President Obama summed it up by saying, “Muhammad Ali shook up the world. And the world is better for it. We are all better for it. Michelle and I send our deepest condolences to his family, and we pray that the greatest fighter of them all finally rests in peace.”
Thanks to Yvonne Coleman Bach and the Louisville Defender for sharing this story with us.