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 first 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. •