THOUSANDS lined the streets of Louisville, Kentucky to see the funeral procession for Muhammad Ali pass through the city and cheer the great man’s name one final time.
Ali’s pallbearers included former heavyweight champions Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson, movie star Will Smith and members of the Ali family. The coffin was driven through a route in Ali’s hometown that passed key locations in his life. A private burial was held before a public memorial service.
The inter-faith service was held at a stadium in Louisville, opened by Imam Hamzah Abdul Malik with a recitation from the Quran. Among those who addressed the crowd, Dr. Kevin Cosby, the senior pastor at St Stephen Baptist Church, reminded those watching of Ali’s significance. “Muhammad Ali said I’m black and I’m pretty,” he said. “He dared to love black people when black people had trouble loving themselves.
“Let us never forget that he is the product of black people in their struggle to be free.”
Rabbi Michael Lerner delivered an impassioned speech that received a standing ovation. “We will not tolerate politicians or anyone putting down Muslims or blaming Muslims for a few people. We know what it’s like to be demeaned,” he declared.
He railed against America’s ills, as well as implying the next President would be a “she”, i.e. Hilary Clinton, with her husband, ex-President Bill Clinton looking on.
“The way to honour Muhammad Ali is to be Muhammad Ali today. That means us, everyone here and everyone listening,” Lerner concluded. “It’s up to us to continue that ability to speak truth to power.”
After a tribute from President Barack Obama was read aloud, the champion’s widow, Lonnie Ali spoke movingly. “From wherever you are watching, know that we have been humbled by your heartfelt expressions of love,” she said.
“The rich and powerful were drawn to him, but he was drawn to the poor and forgotten.
“During his early life he was not free to be who he wanted to be. But he never became embittered enough to quit or to engage in violence.”
And, she said of the late, great champion, “As his voice grew softer, his message took on greater meaning.”