Come Friday, Louisville will be overrun with fond memories and teary eyes as Muhammad Ali’s memorial service winds its way through The Greatest’s hometown.
Bill Clinton, Lonnie Ali and Billy Crystal will deliver the eulogies at Ali’s public service, which will be hosted at the KFC Yum! Center at 2 p.m. in front of a crowd estimated to total 15,000. Hours before the star-studded memorial service — Will Smith and Lennox Lewis are set to be pallbearers — a procession for Ali will start at 9 a.m. and take the former heavyweight champion across the city, touring the historical monuments and childhood areas and locations most cherished and connected with Ali’s childhood in the Louisville area. According to the Muhammad Ali Center website, the procession will take the following route:
In addition to the funeral, there will be a procession throughout Louisville to allow the general public to pay their last respect to the “Greatest of All Time.” On Friday, June 10 beginning at 9AM, the procession will travel northbound on Bardstown Road, westbound on the Watterson Expressway, and then north on I-65 to westbound I-64 (exiting 9th Street ramp). Then traveling west on Muhammad Ali Blvd to 34th Street, left on 34th street to Broadway, making a left on Broadway and then traveling to Cave Hill Cemetery. The route includes locations that were historically important to Muhammad.
The procession will start up Bardstown Road before coming to its first main point — the 11-year old museum near the Ohio River built to honor Ali.
MUHAMMAD ALI CENTER
The Muhammad Ali Center, a two-story museum located at 144 North Sixth St., opened in 2005. The center displays memorabilia, films and art depicting Ali’s life story and core beliefs, such as a full-size boxing ring model and multiple video presentations of the various stages of Ali’s boxing and humanitarian career. The center also boasts two art galleries, the LeRoy Neiman Gallery and the Howard L. Bingham Gallery. In the days since Ali’s death, the center established a memorial for fans to pay tribute and say goodbye to the Louisville product. After the museum stop, the procession will drive down an older city-recognized tribute to Ali.
MUHAMMAD ALI BOULEVARD
The city of Louisville renamed Michigan and Walnut Street to Muhammad Ali Boulevard on Dec. 7, 1978, according to a recent WDRB story. The name change was sponsored by E. Porter Hatcher Jr., the 12th Ward Alderman at the time, and passed on a 6-5 vote. His daughter retains the plaque from the initial sign change. The five-mile stretch of road will take the procession westward toward Ali’s former home.
Ali’s childhoood home, located at 3302 West Grand Ave., was granted a historical marker in 2012 and opened for tours this past May. Ali lived here with his sister and four brothers throughout his childhood. His father was a billboard painter while his mother took care of the family’s five children. The home is also close by the family’s church, King Solomon Missionary Baptist Church, which is located at 1620 Anderson St. and will be passed on the procession’s way back toward the cemetery. Ali stuck around the Louisville area, moving up in the boxing ranks and making a name for himself before graduating high school; his years in school even shaped the procession map to include his old academic stomping grounds.
CENTRAL HIGH SCHOOL
Cassius Clay graduated from Central High School in 1960, according to the Courier Journal. The school was opened in 1952 to serve the city’s African American population and was integrated along with Louisville’s other high schools in 1956. Although Ali’s graduating class went without a yearbook, Jefferson County’s head of archives, Mary Margaret Bell, told the Courier Journal Ali was pictured at a school celebration in the 1961 yearbook — the school was honoring Ali for the Olympic gold medal he won at the 1960 Games in Rome. The school is still standing and operating at 1130 West Chestnut St.
Before Ali was conquering some of the world’s top amateurs at the Olympics, he was first a smart, scrappy kid from Louisville who simply wanted revenge against a bicycle thief. According to WHAS 11, Ali spoke with police officer and trainer Joe Martin after the then-12-year-old had his bike stolen while inside a home show in the summer of 1954. Martin advised the young boy to report the crime, and to also train in his gym before trying to take on the bike thief. Martin happened to run an underground club that, at the time, was the only segregated boxing club in the Louisville area. Ali began his training at Columbia under Martin’s eye. The gym was bought by nuns in 1963, signaling the historic gym’s end. The space, located on 4th Street, below York Street, is now used by Spalding University as its student center and boasts an Ali quote in the space as a tribute to The Greatest’s humble beginnings:
“I hated every minute of training, but I said ‘don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.'”
CAVE HILL CEMETERY
The procession will come to an end at Cave Hill National Cemetery, the largest cemetery in Louisville. The area has been around since 1848 and hosts Union soldiers from the Civil War in addition to Colonel Harland David Sanders of KFC fame. Ali’s headstone will be modest, though its inscription is being kept under wraps for the time being, according to a Fox News online report.
Ali’s family will be observing a private service Thursday prior to Friday’s public ceremonies.
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