Ali's final ride offers a journey through his Louisville, world legacies

Ali's final ride offers a journey through his Louisville, world legacies

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) -  Muhammad Ali's journey to his final rest will cover 23 miles from A.D. Porter & Sons Funeral Home on Bardstown Road to Cave Hill Cemetery.

But that procession past the downtown hall and down the boulevard that bear the name of the world-famous boxer who passed away last week, offer a lesson not only in how the skyline here has changed in three-quarters of a century; the lay of the land has transformed too.

"What he had to fight, coming back, thinking  'I done got me a gold medal and I can't even eat downtown and in my favorite city!'" retired staff sgt. Perry Gregorio told WAVE 3 News Thursday. "I take that to heart, and what it stood for."

Freedom Hall. The University of Louisville. Central High School. The African-American Heritage Center.  All hold a piece of, and place in, Ali's legacy.  But the two-dozen block drive west, from Roy Wilkins Avenue to Louis Coleman Jr. Drive, will take the Champ back to where it all began.

From Beecher Terrace, into Russell,  where a  marquee of sympathy stands at Quinn Chapel AME Church. Another will greet the procession as it  crosses into Shawnee past the Watterson Expressway.

Codes Enforcement and other Metro work crews have brought out the weed-eaters and mowers, clearing more than easements and rights-of-way.

"We're just fresh after Derby, so we look good," Louisville Downtown Partnership communications director Jeanne Hilt said. "But we have company coming and an extra special reason to honor our citizen."

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Tales of distances traveled are as plentiful as grass clippings at 3302 Grand Avenue in Chickasaw, better known as the Ali Childhood Home Museum.

"I've had Alaska, California, New York, Chicago," said Marcia Lawhorn, who took her two days off from Ford's Kentucky Truck Plant to sell commemorative T-shirts.

Her count topped 300 just past noon Thursday.

"Everybody's expressing themselves more," Lawhorn said. "I didn't hear, like I hear now, about him when he was alive, which is sad, you know."

The childhood home will allow no parking Friday. Hosaphena Thomas and her family were taking selfies on the front porch Thursday. Thanks to work obligations they'll be watching the services on television rather than in person.

"I watched his fights with my father all the time," Thomas said. "I would tell his family, 'Just be strong, and pray a lot. It will get better.'"

Faustin Ntala remembers the fight that changed his country.

"When they set it for Kinshasa, everything stopped," he said, referring to Ali's epic "Rumble in the Jungle" with George Foreman in 1974.

Zaire, now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo, put its passion for soccer on hold while Ali was in country, Ntala said.

"I was 8 years old, but after that I looked at the character of the man," he said.

Ntala came to the United States in 1998. Now a teacher in Indianapolis, he brought his three teenage sons to Ali's childhood home Thursday to pay tribute.

"He became a model, a role model for many of us," Ntala said.

Gregorio sees Ali as a champion for social change. Far from condemning the refusal to join the Vietnam War draft, Gregorio applauds a stand for principle.

"Being the time what it was in our nation's dark history, it took more bravery to do that than to just signup and say, 'Okay Uncle Sam I'll do what you tell me to do,'" he said.

The procession's last leg, Broadway, takes the Champ through the Central Business District and the edges of Smoketown, NuLu and Phoenix Hill.  He'll rest with Civil War soldiers and captains of industry; tobacco, racing and bourbon.

World-famous. Notorious. Louisville's own.

"He's the world's, but he's ours," Lawhorn said. "He'll always be ours."

Copyright 2016 WAVE 3 News. All rights reserved.