Historical Marker #2339 in Louisville notes the location of the house where the famous boxer and humanitarian Muhammad Ali grew up.
Muhammad Ali, originally named Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr., was born in Louisville in 1942. Ali grew up at 3302 Grand Avenue in Louisville's West End and was introduced to boxing at a young age by a city policeman after the boy's bicycle was stolen. He attended Central High School, but his studies suffered due to his commitments to boxing.
Ali's rise to prominence as a boxer coincided with the Civil Rights Movement and the two became forever associated. In 1960, at age eighteen, Ali won a gold medal at the Rome Summer Olympics. Later that year he turned professional. Ali progressed through a number of fights before he was finally offered the opportunity to battle Sonny Liston for the world heavyweight championship. The fight was held in Miami on February 25, 1964. Ali scored a knockout in the seventh round and became the heavyweight champion.
The year 1964 also proved to be important in Ali's life for another reason. That year, just before the fight with Liston, he converted to the Nation of Islam and changed his name. After the fight he publicly announced his conversion. Ali became closely associated with the Nation's spiritual leader, Elijah Muhammad, and its primary spokesman, Malcolm X. The Nation of Islam was based on the principles of Islamic religion and promoted African American self determination. Unlike mainstream civil rights leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Nation and its leaders believed a nonviolent approach to civil rights was contrary to common sense and not practical. Ali and Malcolm X formed a tight friendship until Malcolm soon broke ties with the Nation over allegations of infidelity against Elijah Muhammad. Malcolm X was assassinated in Harlem in February 1965 by a group of members of the Nation. Ali remained committed to Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam.
In 1967, during the Vietnam War, Ali was drafted into the U.S. Army and was stripped of his title when he refused to join. Ali cited cited religious reasons for his refusal. The heavyweight title went to Joe Frazier. Ali's right to box was again was restored when the Supreme Court ruled in his favor in the Army induction case. He fought Joe Frazier in 1971 and lost. Three years later, however, in a match in Zaire against then champion George Foreman made famous as the "Rumble in the Jungle," Ali regained the championship. Ali lost the title to Leon Spinks in early 1978, but won it back that fall. His final fight, against Larry Holmes, was in 1980. Ali was knocked out in the eleventh round.
After leaving boxing Ali has focused his efforts on humanitarian initiatives. The Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville is dedicated to telling Ali's life story and promoting the human values of hope, respect, and understanding. In 2002, Ali was named a United Nations Messenger of Peace.