COVINGTON, Ky. – Local leaders are remembering Muhammad Ali not just as a boxing legend, but also for his influence outside on the civil rights movement.
Just two days after winning the world heavyweight championship, he changed his name from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali.
“’I’m going to change my name because it’s a slave name.’ That’s significant,” former NAACP Cincinnati President Milton Hinton recalled. “And he was also speaking out, saying ‘I’m opposed to the Vietnam War.’”
In 1966, Ali openly refused to be drafted, citing his Islamic religious beliefs. He was temporarily banned from boxing and originally sentenced to five years behind bars before the sentence was overturned. His convictions were inspiring, Hinton said.
“He was willing to forego face, fortune and freedom – all three were at stake,” Hinton said.
In 1995, Ali made a surprise visit to the Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati for the facility’s inauguration.
Shakila Ahmad of the Islamic Center recalled Ali’s message of “bringing people together.”
“Here was a guy that you could emulate… in this arena,” Hinton said.
In Ali’s hometown of Louisville, where he will have a public funeral Friday, residents said they were grieving the loss of a local hero.
“He brought so much to Louisville as a person, as a human,” Anthony Gibbs said. “Great integrity, great respect. [Ali] did a lot for society, especially African-Americans like us.”
Sunday, mourners were already gathering in Louisville to celebrate Ali's life. Tributes were growing outside of the Muhammad Ali Center downtown.
"We lost the greatest," Bruce Golson said. "What can we do? Can't do anything expect celebrate."
The funeral will be held in the KFC Yum! Center beginning at 2 p.m. Friday.
“Everybody loves him,” Golson said. “We are going to love him every day.”
Scott Wegener reported from Louisville.