Ali represented a time and place that history will always remember

    In a decade filled with transcendent figures, only one was left standing on the world stage after 15 rounds.

    Ali.

    The 1960’s produced a plethora of men and  women who railed against cultural norms, demanding change. In so doing they  pulled Post WWII America and the rest of the world into an age of discovery, enlightenment and change.

    From both Kennedy’s and Jackie O, The Beatles, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Lenny Bruce to Betty Friedan, the 60’s were filled with iconic figures who left their massive imprint on politics, race relations, entertainment, gender equality, health and most every aspect of how we lived.

    Yet, what many of them have in common is that they left the stage too soon.  Some were felled by assassins, others by their own excesses.  Some simply left the stage and moved on to new lives.

    But one remained in the ring: Ali.

    His impact was felt in the boxing ring and in the arena of politics, religion and culture.  His conversion to Islam was publicly acknowledged when he changed his name from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali, opening the door to a world few knew anything about.

    His pugilistic skills were on display outside the ring in his vehement anti-war sentiments. His public theatrics drew attention to his message of black pride

    From his debut in Louisville as Cassius Clay to his public conversion to Islam and his new name, Muhammad Ali never stopped commanding attention. His ability to deliver a message was almost unprecedented. The world heard him and listened—even when they disagreed with him  Yet he fought  on.

    He continued to box and win throughout it all , leaving many to wonder if the long battle with Parkinson’s that eventually took his life was exacerbated by the years of pounding.

    Yet Ali would not be silenced.  His motion was limited.  His words hard to hear and understand.  Still, through it all, he continued to be a beacon of ideological hope. 

    Many will never forget the sight of Ali holding the Olympic Lighting Torch at the Atlanta games.  He was shaking with tremors yet stood tall.  His presence said to the world, I am still fighting.

    Fifteen rounds.  Still a champion as he passed. Muhammad Ali remained relevant until the end of his life, leaving a legacy of battles won and lost that continue to impact us today.

    In the end, his body no longer floated like a butterfly, but his words and message still stung like a bee.

    Ali.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.