Muhammad Ali

June 3, 2016

By June 4, 2016, everyone had heard the news. The world was mourning. And, they heard that he still fought, until the very end.

His daughter would say, “Our hearts are literally hurting. But we are so happy that he is free now. We all tried to stay strong and whispered in his ear, ‘You can go now. We will be ok. We love you. Thank you. You can go back to God now.’ All of us were around him hugging and kissing him and holding his hands, chanting the Islamic prayer.”

She added, “‘All of his organs failed but his HEART wouldn’t stop beating. For 30 minutes…his heart just [kept] beating. No one had ever seen anything like it. A true testament to the strength of his Spirit and Will!

He was born in 1942. As a young boy amid racial segregation, he experienced racial prejudice and discrimination firsthand.

On one particular day, he had walked in a store with his mother. He was thirsty, and he asked for a drink of water. According to his mother, “they wouldn’t give him one because of his color.” He couldn’t understand it. He was deeply hurt by it, and he cried, not because he didn’t get what he wanted, but because someone would deny him the same right others had received, simply because of the color of his skin.

The young boy would remember this, along with the 1955 murder of Emmett Till.

A few years later, when he was 12, his bike was stolen. It was at that point, he decided he didn’t want to be hurt again. He told the police officer he wanted to stand up for himself. The police officer told him, “”Well, you better learn how to fight before you start challenging people.” The Louisville policeman just happened to be a trainer at a local gym. He trained young boxers. The young boy asked the officer to teach him how to box.

His name was Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr., pictured here (left) with his younger brother. He would later be known as Muhammad Ali.

There are so many stories out there of Muhammad Ali. There is an HBO documentary right now, titled,”What’s My Name | Muhammad Ali”, following his boxing career and his legacy as a social critic and as a philanthropist.

Many have called him a hero, some have called him a complicated man, one biographer called him a “flawed rebel who wanted attention.” There are many who loved him, what he stood up for and against, there are many still today who hate him. Each time the Peace Page has shared a story about Muhammad Ali, there is always at least one visitor who will display his or her hate for Ali.

He was a born leader. Some of his biographies will tell you that his great-grandfather was Thomas Morehead, an enslaved black man whose parents were said to be his white owner and a slave named Dinah. If his grandfather’s owner was Armstead Morehead, then Ali would have family connections to U.S. Presidents James Madison and Zachary Taylor as well as explorer Meriwether Lewis, General George S. Patton, and General Robert E. Lee.

A more recent biography “Ali: A Life”, written by Jonathan Eig, claims that another ancestor of Ali was Archer Alexander, who heroically fought both for his own freedom and against slavery and was the model for a monument to emancipation, “Freedmen’s Memorial,” which depicts a freed slave with Alexander’s likeness with broken chains preparing to rise at the feet of Abraham Lincoln.

After Ali was drafted into the military in April 1967 and decided he wasn’t just going to accept the decision given to him, he challenged the authorities. He refused to serve on the grounds that he was a practicing Muslim minister with religious beliefs that prevented him from fighting in a war he didn’t believe in. He was arrested, stripped of his world title and boxing license.

He said during that time, “My conscience won’t let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people, or some poor hungry people in the mud for big powerful America. And shoot them for what? They never called me nig*er, they never lynched me, they didn’t put no dogs on me, they didn’t rob me of my nationality, rape and kill my mother and father. … Shoot them for what? How can I shoot them poor people? Just take me to jail.”

The U.S. Department of Justice pursued a legal case against Ali, denying his claim for conscientious objector status, but the U.S. Supreme Court eventually overturned the conviction in June 1971.

Over the years, Ali would support the Special Olympics and the Make-A-Wish Foundation, as well as traveling to numerous countries, including Mexico and Morocco, to help out those in need. In 1998, he was chosen to be a United Nations Messenger of Peace because of his work in developing nations.

Even though age and the effects of Parkinson’s disease began to slow him down, he continued fighting in the ring, donating much of his proceeds to various charities and social causes, according to “What’s My Name | Muhammad Ali”

According to the director of “What’s My Name | Muhammad Ali”, Antoine Fuqua, his favorite moment in the documentary is when Ali returns to the Olympics to light the Olympic flame. He’s been retired, and everyone knows he has been battling Parkinson’s disease, but, he stands there, holding that flame, his hands trembling, but his spirit still very proud.

Fuqua says, “Here comes Ali, shaking and he’s holding the torch and you’re rooting for him. He puts the torch in the air and the crowd goes crazy. I loved this moment . . . But if you watch it, then he does it again (laughing) and when I see that, I get so excited and go “That’s Ali”, he’s still fighting. Parkinson’s still didn’t beat him. Right, he’s shaking, you’re just praying, don’t drop that torch. You don’t want to see him fail ever. And not only did he do it, then he did it again, and to me that’s Muhammad Ali. Always goes beyond what you expect him to.”

Ali himself would say, “I am an ordinary man who worked hard to develop the talent I was given. Many fans wanted to build a museum to acknowledge my achievements. I wanted more than a building to house my memorabilia. I wanted a place that would inspire people to be the best that they could be at whatever they chose to do, and to encourage them to be respectful of one another.”

When he could no longer fight, when he finally passed away on June 3, 2016, a family spokesman reported that one of the last things Ali had requested was that “people of all walks of life to be able to attend his funeral.”

In her eulogy to Ali, Natasha Mundkur, said, we need “to find strength in our identities, whether we are black, or white, or Asian, or Hispanic, LGBT, disabled, or able-bodied, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu or Christian.”

His final wish was granted. At his funeral on June 10, 2016, Muslim, Christian, Jewish and other speakers came together to honor and remember Ali.

Ali fought to the very end, for his beliefs, for justice, for respect.