Fleming Mathews, the 30-year pin fixed in his tie, talked about it philosophically as the barber in Bennett's shop at 1007 U st. NW. cut his salt-and-pepper hair:
"Black people had a sentimental attachment to Ali when the title was taken away, when Ali, a deeply religious man, refused to serve in the military during the Vietnam war. He sacrificed the championship then for a principle, and I think history will record that Ali got a dirty deal then. But Ali came back and won that title. I don't feel sorry for him. He's had his place in the sun. I cheer the kid who had the guts to fight him."
Wednesday night's heavyweight title fight in which an aging Muhammad Ali lost to the young (24) newcomer Leon Spinks moved some to declare the end of an era, the passing of one of the few remaining heroes. Others were sure he could, and would, come back. Ali, in his defeat, once again moved people, as he has always done.
Children worshipped him. Yesterday, the children at Savoy Elementary school in Anacostia acted out the fight during recess. Ali lost. But the children, even sure of such things, all said he would come back and win.
Ali once toured the wards of Children's Hospital here, extending a scheduled 45-minute visit to three hours, hugging, kissing and shaking hands with children, employes and parents, a hospital spokesman said.
Yesterday, emblazoned in red pencil on a poster of Ali at the hospital were the words, "The King is dead, long live the King."
Bernice Anderson, a saleswoman at a bakery in Anacostia, refuses to believe Ali is finished. She said she is disappointed in him.She feels he let her down.
"I'm definitely upset about the fight," she said sternly, waiting on a customer. "No, he didn't give it his all, and I've seen him fight since he won the Olympics. I was pulling for him. I wanted him to retire, not lose a fight.
"He was one of our educated, scientific boxers, a man who thinks while he boxed," Anderson continued. "He is one of the smartest boxers in history and I strongly believe that if he ever fights for the title again, he will win it."
"He's a hero to a lot of people, black and white and I don't know if Spinks can take that places," said John Clem as he sipped a beer in a K Street lounge. "It's sad for a lot of people. I feel depressed about the whole thing."
Allen Brill, a Georgetown University student, said, "It's like the last hero of the '60s is down, and it's as if he'd decided who's goin to follow him. It's hard to ignore Ali's approach to the fight - it was different than before.He was trying to show that it was a unique event, a part of history.
"The way he talked to Spinks (during television interviews) before the fight, Ali seemed like he was almost coaching him. It was a great production by Ali, typical of his style . . . like Spinks was Ali's chosen successor," Brill said.
"He's a good man, but he's through," said Billy Askin, moving the winning checker piece into place in a game at a shoe repair shop on Martin Luther King Avenue. "He ain't got no business in the ring anymore. He done what he could, but it's time for him to quit. Don't you think there's and end to everything you do?"