Muhammad Ali: Louisville Honors Its Hometown Boxing Legend

Muhammad Ali was born on January 17, 1942, in Louisville, Kentucky. Ali was born with the name Cassius Clay, after his father Cassius Marcella Clay, Sr., who was named after 19th century abolitionist Cassius Clay. The legendary boxer changed his name to Muhammad Ali after converting to Islam in the mid-60s. Ali began boxing in Louisville and attended Central High School downtown. Today the city paid honor to the man who came to be known as The Greatest and was known around the world for his boxing, his philanthropy, and his message of peace.

Muhammad Ali began boxing when, at the age of 12, his bike was stolen. Police officer Joe Elsby Martin died at the age of 80 in 1996. Upon his death, the New York Times reported on the historic meeting of the two. Martin ran a local recreation center in Louisville and ran into Muhammad Ali after his bike was taken. It had been a Christmas present from his father and the boy was in tears. He had been told to go see Officer Martin and ask him to fill out a police report. He did and told Martin that he’d whip the person who took his bike if he could find him. Martin told him he better learn to fight if he was going to start taking people on, and Muhammad Ali’s training began. Ali described those first days in his autobiography.

“I ran downstairs, crying, but the sights and sounds and the smell of the boxing gym excited me so much that I almost forgot about the bike. ‘There were about 10 boxers in the gym, some hitting the speed bag, some in the ring, sparring, some jumping rope. I stood there, smelling the sweat and rubbing alcohol, and a feeling of awe came over me. One slim boy shadowboxing in the ring was throwing punches almost too fast for my eyes to follow.”

Muhammad Ali Muhammad Ali – age 12 [Photo courtesy of Associated Press]Before Muhammad Ali left the gym that night, Martin gave him an application to join the gym. He told him that they had boxing every weeknight if he’d like to join them.

The childhood home of Muhammad Ali has been a spot for the people of Louisville to mourn their own today as many have stopped and left flowers and notes of condolence. Louisville newspaper The Courier-Journal reports that among them was a woman who attended Central High School with him, Bobbie Powell-Golder. She left a black and gold umbrella. Black and gold are Central’s school colors. She commented on Ali’s death and legacy.

“Muhammad Ali, Cassius Clay, has touched so many people along the way. Muhammad Ali’s living must not be in vain. To the community, let’s reach out to our young people and give as he has given.”

The childhood home of Muhammad Ali recently opened for tours after undergoing some renovations. The structure is now a museum including documentaries and mementos that focus on Ali’s life outside the boxing ring.

The Muhammad Ali Center is also located in downtown Louisville. Its website describes the center’s mission in this way.

“The mission of the Muhammad Ali Center is to preserve and share the legacy and ideals of Muhammad Ali, to promote respect, hope, and understanding, and to inspire adults and children everywhere to be as great as they can be.”

The center includes interactive exhibits, films, audio recordings, and more about the life of Muhammad Ali, from his start in West Louisville to the message of peace that he communicated throughout his life, right up to his final days.

Louisville’s mayor, Greg Fischer, posted this tweet following the passing of Muhammad Ali. His Twitter feed today is filled with the many ways so many in Louisville are remembering and honoring The Greatest.


[Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images]