Thousands of people gathered today to pay their final respects to legendary boxer and political rights activist Muhammad Ali, who died late last week at HonorHealth Scottsdale Osborn Medical Center in Scottsdale, Arizona. Today, people chanted his name as a funeral procession passed through Louisville, Kentucky, saying goodbye to The Greatest for the last time.
Ali’s wife, his two former wives, and his nine children all took part in the motorcade. People laid wreaths and flowers along the street and at the site of his childhood home. So many flowers lined the pavement that the driver had to turn on the windshield wipers from time to time. Actor Will Smith and heavyweight champions Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson acted as Ali’s pallbearers, as well as three family members.
The official funeral ceremony is expected to commence at 3 PM today. Fifteen thousand people are expected to attend the interfaith service at the KFC Yum Center. Several prominent figures and politicians, including former president Bill Clinton, plan to attend.
Ali had been more than a boxer. For many people, he had been a voice for the unheard, an outspoken proponent of civil rights and critical of racial inequality. In 1967 when Ali refused to be drafted into the U.S. Army on religious grounds, people criticized him—but the practice is now fairly common among draftees. Ali was a pioneer of using notoriety to further a social or political cause, and he suffered for it.
His willingness to speak on political topics and assert, with confidence, many of the things wrong with racially-divided America lost him his boxing title, got him banned from his sport, and removed his source of income. His refusal to bow down to a country that despised his race and his position in the world as something more than entertainment. Ali’s actions inspired other athletes to follow suit and made it socially acceptable for other athletes to protest in the public eye.
Ali had struggled with Parkinson’s for 32 years. His passing was mourned by many. He died surrounded by family, love, and peace.