'Ali! Ali!': The world says goodbye to The Greatest
LOUISVILLE, Kentucky (AP):
Louisville and the rest of the world said goodbye to The Greatest yesterday, showering affection on Muhammad Ali during a fist-pumping funeral procession through the streets of his hometown, followed by a star-studded memorial service where he was saluted as a fearless breaker of racial barriers.
An estimated 100,000 people holding signs and chanting, "Ali! Ali!" lined the streets as a hearse carrying his cherry-red casket made its way past his childhood home to Louisville's Cave Hill Cemetery, where a private graveside service was held for the three-time heavyweight champion of the world.
"He stood up for himself and for us, even when it wasn't popular," said Ashia Powell, waiting at a railing for the funeral procession to pass by on an interstate highway below.
Later in the day, a grand memorial service began at a sports arena packed with celebrities, athletes and politicians, including former President Bill Clinton and comedian Billy Crystal, Sen. Orrin Hatch, director Spike Lee, former NFL great Jim Brown, Arnold Schwarzenegger, football star David Beckham, Whoopi Goldberg and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
As the interfaith service got under way at the KFC Yum! Center, the crowd of up to 15,000 burst into applause and chanted, "Ali! Ali!" when a Muslim religious leader welcomed the audience to "the home of the people's champ."
Kevin Cosby, pastor of a Louisville church, likened Ali to such racial barrier-breakers as Jesse Owens, Rosa Parks and Jackie Robinson.
"Before James Brown said, 'I'm black and I'm proud,' Muhammad Ali said, 'I'm black and I'm pretty,'" Cosby said. "Blacks and pretty were an oxymoron."
He said the boxing great "dared to affirm the power and capacity of African-Americans" and infused them with a "sense of somebodiness."
Rabbi Michael Lerner, a political activist and editor of the Jewish magazine Tikkun, brought the crowd to its feet four times with a fiery speech in which he referred to Ali's refusal to be drafted during the Vietnam War a stand that cost him his boxing title.
"Ali stood up to an immoral war, risked fame to speak truth to power. The way to honour him is to be like him today," Lerner said, launching into an attack on such things as drone use, big banks and racist policing and sentencing.
Ali, the most magnetic and controversial athlete of the 20th century, died last Friday at 74 after a long battle with Parkinson's disease.