A global icon was lost with the death of Muhammad Ali earlier this month. And, while the world grieves his passing, Louisville has lost its most beloved son.
Ali, while loved and revered throughout the world, always considered Louisville to be his home. It held a special place in his heart, and the city reciprocated that feeling back to him. This was expressed in a week-long tribute and memorial in Louisville that saw residents line miles of a funeral procession through city streets while showing throngs of international visitors the city’s signature hospitality.
Ali, originally known as Cassius Clay, was born in Louisville on January 17, 1942. It was here he honed his ability as a boxer, and it was here he returned to after winning Gold in the 1960 Rome Olympics. He returned often after capturing the title of Heavyweight Champion of the World, and since his retirement from boxing, he has been involved with the vision and direction of the Muhammad Ali Center. And it is here, in Louisville, that “The Greatest” has his final resting place.
“Though a global icon, Muhammad Ali always held a special place in his heart for his hometown. We hope people from around the world will always consider Louisville a place where they can honor and celebrate his life,” said Karen Williams, president & CEO of the Louisville Convention &Visitors Bureau.
Having lived most of his young life in Louisville, the city is full of “landmarks” that are the backdrops of the events and experiences that molded Ali into the man who was both loved and respected as a legendary sports figure as well as a man of true principals.
The boyhood home of Ali was recently opened as a museum after a major renovation that returned it to its original state. It was the house that he was brought to after his birth at Louisville General Hospital. A bronze marker is located in front of the house noting its historical relevance.
The Columbia Auditorium is where the 12-year old Clay had his bike stolen, the event that many consider to be the beginning of Ali’s road to greatness. A tearful Clay vowed to find the thief to a Louisville policeman, who then told Clay he needed to learn to box if he planned to go after the culprit. That Louisville policeman became Clay’s first trainer.
He trained at the former Columbia Gym, which is now a part of Louisville’s Spalding University. Ali had his first job as a teen in Spalding’s library, where he cleaned and worked at the front desk.
Ali graduated from West Louisville’s Central High School. After winning the gold in Rome, a celebration was held at the high school. The school is still in operation.
Clay made his professional boxing debut in Freedom Hall, a multipurpose arena located on the grounds of the Kentucky Exposition Center that is still used today. His first televised boxing match was in what is now the Metro United Way building in downtown Louisville.
The Second Street Bridge is where Ali stood and is thought to have threwn his Olympic Gold Medal into the Ohio River after he and a friend were denied service at a local restaurant because of they were black.
In 1978, Walnut Street in Louisville was renamed Muhammad Ali Boulevard. The street runs nearly five miles through downtown to West Louisville.
And finally, Muhammad Ali was laid to rest in Louisville’s Cave Hill Cemetery. One of the most beautiful spots in the city, Cave Hill is a 296-acre Victorian era National Cemetery and arboretum.
The stories of all of the above, and many more, can be found at the Muhammad Ali Center. This $80 million museum and cultural center located in Ali’s hometown honors his life and legacy. Both Ali and his wife Lonnie were instrumental in the design and building of the Center, and have stayed involved since its opening in 2005.
A local tour company is working on developing an Ali tour that will take visitors to all the srops that have historic relevance to Ali’s life. The Convention & Visitors Bureau is also working on a self-guided tour brochure. Both hope to be available soon.
Visit www.gotolouisville.com or www.alicenter.org for more information on “The Greatest” and his hometown.