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.
In 1964, just before the fight with Liston, he publicly announced his conversion to the Nation of Islam. At the same time, he declared, "Cassius Clay is a slave name. I didn't choose it, and I don't want it. I am Muhammad Ali, a free name — it means beloved of God, and I insist people use it when people speak to me." The Nation of Islam was based on the principles of Islamic religion and promoted African American self determination. Unlike other 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 broke ties with the Nation over allegations of infidelity against its leader, Elijah Muhammad. Malcolm X was assassinated in Harlem in February 1965, purportedly by a group of members of the Nation. Ali remained committed to Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam throughout the 1960s.
In 1967, during the Vietnam War, Ali was drafted into the U.S. Army and was stripped of his heavy weight title when he refused to join. Ali claimed conscientious objector status based on his faith. That claim was rejected by the the draft board and Ali was found guilty of draft evasion. Ali was kept from the boxing ring for nearly five years, until the unanimous decision in Clay V. the United States (1971). The Supreme Court found that the United States government had failed to specify why Ali's conscientious objector status was denied and that Ali's request "was founded on the tenets of the Muslim religion as he understands them."
Ali's ability to box was reinstated following the ruling. He fought Joe Frazier in 1971 and lost. Three years later, 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 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.
Muhammad Ali died on June 2, 2016 and is buried in Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville. His funeral was a community event and Ali's casket was driven past his childhood home and throughout Louisville's West End. His life is celebrated annually in Louisville through the I Am Ali festival. The Louisville Airport was renamed in Ali's honor in 2019.
The marker reads:
MUHAMMAD ALI'S HOME SITE
Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr. was born on January 17, 1942 at Louisville General Hospital. He grew up and lived here at 3302 Grand Ave. with his parents, Odessa & Cassius Clay, Sr., and brother, Rudolph. Ali attended public schools that were mostly black, including Central High School.
(Reverse) “EDUCATION BRINGS SELF-RESPECT” – Muhammad Ali- The Clay family was part of the black middle class of West End Louisville, which was racially separated. Yet here is where young Clay’s values were instilled, transforming him into three-time heavyweight champion and world-renowned humanitarian, Muhammad Ali.
This marker was dedicated on May 8, 2012.