Muhammad Ali was a legend as a boxer, philanthropist and social activist. The City of Philadelphia and the 400 Years Coalition will posthumously recognize the late heavyweight boxing champion Saturday with a ceremony to rename 52nd Street as Muhammad Ali Way.
The event will take place at Malcolm X Park, 52nd and Pine Street, at 3 p.m. on Saturday as part of the Juneteenth Celebration.
“I just think he was more than a sports icon,” said Faruq Abdul Ghaffar, executive director of 400 Years Coalition, which is planning programs in the Philadelphia area to recognize the arrival and influence of Africans in America since 1619.
“He was universal to the people. He was loved by everyone. He represented his people in a way that was a positive thing around the world,” Abdul Ghaffar said.
“He represented Philadelphia. He lived here. He was a part of the culture. He represented that well. He had the camp up at Deer Lake [Pennsylvania]. So he was in Philadelphia a number of times. He would come down and be on 52nd Street. He used to ride down and talk to the people.”
Ali was born Cassius Clay Jr. in Louisville, Kentucky, on Jan. 17, 1942. He started working out with Joe Martin, a police officer, and learned to how to box at a young age.
The 6-foot-3 boxer had fancy footwork, quick hands and tremendous skills. In 1960, he became an Olympic gold medalist, defeating Zbigniew Pietrzkowski of Poland. After the Olympics, he became a professional fighter. In 1964, he knocked out Sonny Liston to become heavyweight champion of the world. That year, he changed his name to Muhammad Ali.
In 1967, Ali refused induction into the U.S. Armed Forces due to his religious beliefs. He was arrested, fined and stripped of his boxing license and title.
In 1971, the Supreme Court reversed the decision, which allowed him to return to the ring. That year, Ali battled Joe Frazier in what was called “The Fight of the Century.” Frazier won in 15 rounds, Ali’s first loss as a pro fighter after 31 victories.
Ali bounced back and defeated Frazier in a rematch in 1974. He also fought George Foreman in another big-time fight tagged the “Rumble in the Jungle.” Ali used the “rope-a-dope” style to defeat Foreman in eight rounds, recapturing the heavyweight crown.
He retired from boxing in 1981 and devoted his life to promoting world peace and other humanitarian efforts. His work as an ambassador for peace began in 1985, when he flew to Lebanon to secure the release of four hostages. He made goodwill missions to Afghanistan and North Korea and delivered more than $1 million in medical aid to Cuba.
In 2005, Ali and his wife, Lonnie, opened the Muhammad Ali Center in his hometown of Louisville. The Ali Center is a museum and educational facility that inspires young people and adults. That same year, Ali received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush.
He came to Philadelphia in 2012 to receive the Liberty Medal at the National Constitution Center and was honored as a champion of freedom.
Ali died in 2016, and his memorial service was a three-day event that celebrated the life of a boxer known as “The Greatest.”
“I have to thank City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell for getting the resolution done,” Abdul Ghaffar said. “She was a big part of that. They’re going to have a float in the parade. His daughter, Khaliah Ali, will be there. They’re going to have several signs from Parkside Avenue all the way down to Baltimore Avenue. The main thing [is that] he was more than just a boxer.”