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Celebrating Kentucky: Muhammad Ali

By Jenn Shockley |

Remembering Ali and his legacy as an ambassador for universal love and peace.

Cassius Clay, a.k.a. Muhammad Ali, is perhaps the most famed black celebrity in the state. He was born January 17, 1942 in Louisville, Kentucky, and departed this world on June 3, 2016 after an extended battle with Parkinson 's disease. At an early age this young man learned to float like a butterfly and sting like a bee, becoming the most renowned boxing champion in the world. He won a gold medal in the 1960 Olympics as the light heavyweight competition and was deemed an Olympic hero. When he retired from the boxing world, he retired a champion on all fronts.

Of course boxing wasn't the only thing that made Muhammad Ali famous. He was most infamous for refusing to enter the draft in April 1967, under grounds that he was a practicing Muslim minister and could not fight. After a lengthy court battle, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned his conviction in 1971, freeing Ali to continue his boxing career.

In 1984, Ali announced he has Parkinson's Disease and began his involvement in the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center in Phoenix, Arizona. He also supported and was involved with the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the Special Olympics. He achieved one of his greatest honors in 1998, when he was deemed the United Nations Messenger of Peace, thanks to his work with developing nations and aiding countries in need like Morocco and Mexico.


Though he became rich and famous, he never forgot where he was from. The Muhammad Ali Center opened in 2005 in downtown Louisville. The Champ wanted it to be a community center with learning tools and an encouraging environment for today's youth. During that same year, he was bestowed with the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush.

He was known for his compassion and kindness, even convincing a stranger not to commit suicide at one point. He used only words and kindness to draw the man away from a building ledge, citing his own experiences in life and how he overcame hardship. Ali's life was not always charmed, but he made the most of what he had and overcame great obstacles in his path.


At the time of Ali's death, thousands were in attendance. His widow, Lonnie, is quoted as saying, "Muhammad indicated that, when the end came for him, he wanted us to use his life and death as a teaching moment for young people, for his country, and for the world. He wanted us to remind people who are suffering that he had seen the face of injustice. He grew up during segregation, and that during his early life he was not free to be who he wanted to be. BUT, he never became embittered enough to quit or to engage in violence."
Head on over to for more profiles of prominent black Kentuckians.

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