Louisville Mourns Muhammad Ali, Hometown Hero
People around the world are mourning Muhammad Ali, who died Friday at the age of 74. Ali’s funeral takes place this Friday in the three-time heavyweight champion’s hometown of Louisville, Kentucky.
Ali was born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. in 1942 in Louisville, where he is remembered by the Muhammad Ali Center and another museum based at his bright pink boyhood home.
Tens of thousands flocked to those sites over the weekend to pay their respects to Ali. Here & Now‘s Robin Young speaks with Louisville MayorGreg Fischer.
Interview Highlights: Greg Fischer
On his earliest memory of Ali
“If you grew up in Louisville, you knew the champ. I was six years old when he beat Sonny Liston. So what I remember from that is my dad and his friends buzzing, ‘He did it, he did it. He knocked out the unknockable Sonny Liston.’ Of course then the iconic photo in the papers the next day of this big, bold, beautiful young black man from Louisville, Kentucky saying ‘I shook up the world.’ That’s my youngest memory.”
On Ali’s relationship with Louisville over the course of his life
“His stages through life represented our country’s stages through life in many different ways. Here was a confident, cocky, young black man with swagger who was not afraid to say what was on his mind, and that made people uncomfortable. He backed it up obviously, in the ring but then when the war came along, the Vietnam War, and he became a conscientious objector, a lot of criticism over that. And he paid the price. He stayed out of the ring for three-and-a-half years.”
“What was unique about Muhammad was that as Louisvillians we were able to see the whole arc of his life from birth to 74. So it’s like growing up with your uncle that you love. You got to see the glory, the three-time world heavy weight champion. And in the latter stages of his life he had difficulty speaking, but always connecting through his eyes and through his spirit. A lot of times you connect a love and deep sense of longing for a family member, and for many of us here in Louisville we saw him as a family member, and we were proud to be part of his family.”
On Ali’s cultural importance
“He was the first inter-faith leader before we knew what that was. When he converted to Islam and started talking about the necessity of us all being one. Don’t focus on the secondary differences like race, religion, skin color. We’re all one people. It’s a message we need more than ever.”
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