Farewell to boxing legend, civil rights hero

Two-year-old Brandon Liggons holding an image of Ali during the funeral procession for the three-time heavyweight boxing champion in Louisville yesterday. Worshippers and well-wishers snap away as the casket with the body of the late boxing champion
Worshippers and well-wishers snap away as the casket with the body of the late boxing champion Muhammad Ali was brought for his jenazah, an Islamic funeral prayer, in Louisville, Kentucky, on Thursday.PHOTO: REUTERS
Two-year-old Brandon Liggons holding an image of Ali during the funeral procession for the three-time heavyweight boxing champion in Louisville yesterday. Worshippers and well-wishers snap away as the casket with the body of the late boxing champion
A crowd gathering outside the funeral home, as people wait for the funeral procession for Muhammad Ali to begin in Louisville yesterday.PHOTO: REUTERS
Two-year-old Brandon Liggons holding an image of Ali during the funeral procession for the three-time heavyweight boxing champion in Louisville yesterday.
Two-year-old Brandon Liggons holding an image of Ali during the funeral procession for the three-time heavyweight boxing champion in Louisville yesterday.PHOTO: REUTERS

Thousands gather in Muhammad Ali's hometown Louisville to say goodbye to The Greatest

LOUISVILLE • Thousands of people from near and far gathered in Muhammad Ali's hometown Louisville yesterday to say goodbye to the boxing legend and civil rights hero, who mesmerised the world with his dazzling skills.

A funeral procession through town, a private burial and a public memorial service wrapped up two days of tributes to the three-time heavyweight world champion, who died last week at 74 after a long battle with Parkinson's.

The funeral processionwound through the city of 600,000 in the southern US state of Kentucky, where Ali was born at a time of racial segregation.

The cortege passed by sites that were important to "The Greatest": his childhood home, the Ali Centre, the Centre for African American Heritage - which focuses on the lives of blacks in Kentucky - and along Muhammad Ali Boulevard before arriving at the Cave Hill Cemetery for a hero's burial.

Spectators carried signs and flowers, and some even chanted Ali's name. T-shirt vendors had set up shop along the procession route, some with equipment to make shirts on the spot.

A GREAT BLESSING

I grew up watching him. I grew up having my identity shaped by what he accomplished... The incredible gestures of love and support that he showed me was one of the great blessings of my life.

U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA, in a video message on Thursday.

GIFT TO THE WORLD

He gave us courage... He was a gift to his people, to his religion, to his country and ultimately to the world.

ISLAMIC SCHOLAR SHERMAN JACKSON, who spoke at the Muslim prayer service for Ali on Thursday.

ICON AND LEGEND

The term 'float like a butterfly, sting like a bee' will always be remembered. He is an icon and a legend of boxing.

FORMER WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT BOXING CHAMPION LENNOX LEWIS

Born Cassius Clay in 1942, the boxer won Olympic gold and went on to a glorious professional career, with his epic fights - like the "Rumble in the Jungle" with George Foreman and the "Thrilla in Manila" with Joe Frazier - now the stuff of sports legend.

He shocked America by refusing to serve in Vietnam, a decision that cost him his title and career for years. He earned scorn for his incendiary comments about his opponents, once calling Frazier a "gorilla". But Ali later earned global respect as a civil rights activist who preached religious tolerance, and for his public battle with a disease that ravaged his once-powerful body.

Actor Will Smith - who earned an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Ali on the silver screen - and former heavyweight champions Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewiswere among the pallbearers.

Ali was honoured at an interfaith memorial service at a large sports arena that brought together VIPs and fans alike. Former US president Bill Clinton and comedian Billy Crystal gave eulogies.

Early estimates put those who attended at about 15,000 people.The free tickets to the memorial service had been snapped up within half an hour when they were released, and a black market for the coveted tickets had sprouted online.

US President Barack Obama was unable to attend the funeral of the man he calls a "personal hero"because it coincided with his daughter Malia's graduation from high school. But he published a video message on Thursday, in which he displayed two mementoes given to him by "The Champ" - a book of photographs and a set of gloves - which he has kept close to him through his time in the White House.

"This week we lost an icon," Mr Obama said in the message. "A person who, for African Americans, I think, liberated their minds in recognising that they could be proud of who they were.

"I grew up watching him. I grew up having my identity shaped by what he accomplished. The incredible gesture of love and support that he showed me was one of the great blessings of my life."

On Thursday, thousands came together for a Muslim prayer service in remembrance of Ali, who converted to Islam in 1964, changing his name to Muhammad Ali.

The brief ceremony brought together dignitaries and ordinary fans, honouring a man known for both his tenacity in the ring and his social activism outside of it.

"To rise from such humble beginnings to the world stage is like a grain of salt turning into a beach. In Louisville, you feel you are part of it," said Mr Ed Laster, 68, a retired educator who grew up on the west side of Louisville.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 11, 2016, with the headline 'Farewell to boxing legend, civil rights hero'. Print Edition | Subscribe