Louisville airport renamed in honor of Muhammad Ali


City officials expect the name change will attract tourists to the city


By Frederick H. Lowe


Louisville, Kentucky’s International Airport has been renamed the Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport in honor of Muhammad Ali, a Louisville native, three-time heavyweight boxing champ and a world-renown figure who  caused people to stop in their tracks, reach out to touch him, or just stand happily in his glow.

The list of his fans included young black men who wanted to emulate his boxing style, older black men who took pride in his unabashed confidence,  boasting “I am the Greatest,” and anti-Vietnam War activists who respected his courageous refusal to be inducted into military and fight in a war he abhorred and deemed racist.

Ali could even call Leonid Brezhnev, president of the Soviet Union, a fan.  A smiling Brezhnev met with Ali for 35 minutes in 1978 at the Kremlin in Moscow.

I never saw my dad, Mitchell Lowe, smile so much as when Brezhnev met Ali. It was as though he and other black men had met one of the most-powerful men in the world.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer on Thursday announced Louisville Regional Airport Authority voted on Wednesday to rename the airport in honor of Muhammad Ali who born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. in Louisville on January 17, 1942. Today would have been his 76th birthday.

A formal renaming is scheduled for the week of June 3rd at the “I am Ali”  festival, which will be held at the Muhammad Ali Center, Jean Porter, communications director for Mayor Fischer, told BlackmansStreet.Today. That’s when signs  should be installed throughout the airport and on roads leading to the airport.

More than 3.2 million passengers and 4.7 million pounds of cargo passed through the airport in 2014. The airport has three runways and sits on 1,500 acres. The airport is home to Worldport, the worldwide hub of United Parcel Service or UPS..

The  Kentucky Air National Guard’s 123 Airlift Wing operates C-130 transport aircraft from the co-located Louisville Air National Guard Base.

During the Kentucky Derby’s derby week, which begins April 27, the airport fills up with private jets flying in the wealthy to Louisville to watch and bet on horses at Churchill Downs.  The actual race is scheduled for  May 4 this year.

“Muhammad Ali belonged to the world, but he only had one hometown, and fortunately, that is our great city of Louisville. Muhammad became one of the most well-known people to ever walk the Earth and has left a legacy of humanitarianism that has inspired billions of people,” Mayor Fischer said. “It is important we, as a city, further champion The Champ’s legacy and the airport renaming is a wonderful next step.”

The Airport Authority Board  signed an agreement with Muhammad Ali  Enterprises LLC for use of his name.

Lonnie Ali, his widow, said, “I am proud the Louisville Regional Airport Authority and the City of Louisville are supportive of changing the name of the Louisville International Airport to reflect Muhammad’s impact on the city and his love for his hometown.”

By renaming the airport, Louisville expects to boost the city’s tourism.

“Adding Muhammad Ali’s name to the Louisville International Airport reminds travelers from around the world that our city is a place to have a touchpoint with one of the most-recognized icons of all time,” said Karen Williams, president and CEO of the Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau.

When Muhammad Ali died June 3, 2016, at the age of 74, city officials learned how much he meant to the world. “Visitors flocked to Louisville from nearly every region of the globe to pay their respects to their champion,” said Donald Lassere, president and CEO of the Muhammad Ali Center.

He meant a lot to almost everyone.

My brother, Karl, called me in Chicago to ask if I had attended his funeral since I had met “The Champ” twice and introduced my brother to him.

The acceptance of Muhammad Ali’s name and Muhammad Ali as person is significant.

In 1960 at the Olympics in Rome, he took home the Gold Medal after winning the heavyweight championship.

With pride, he wore the medal around his neck.  A Louisville restaurant, however, refused to serve him because he was black. Ali, then known as Cassius Clay, angrily threw his gold medal into the Ohio River.

However, it was a white Louisville businessmen who invested in Ali as he moved to the top of profession.

Clay joined the Nation of Islam in 1964 after he defeated the heavy favorite Sonny Liston for the world heavyweight title.

The Honorable Elijah Muhammad of the Nation of Islam renamed Clay Muhammad Ali. He told me that Clay was a slave owner and blacks were given the last names of their property owners.

The Chicago Tribune, The New York Times and other sports writers from other publications refused to call him Muhammad Ali.  And even some blacks dismissed his newly adopted name.

Boxer Ernie Terrell refused to call him Muhammad Ali. During a  heavyweight championship boxing match in 1967 at the Astrodome in Houston, Ali verbally taunted the overmatched Terrell during the 15-round fight, asking, “What’s my name?”

Toward the end of his life,  sportswriters still didn’t respect him.

He begin to slur his words, a sign of Parkinson’s Disease, which would eventually kill him. Some sportswriters maligned him, saying he was addicted to heroin.


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