By Chinta Strausberg, Chicago Crusader
The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. Saturday paid tribute to world boxing champion Muhammad Ali, who died Friday night at the age of 74, calling him a “social transformer” whose body is gone but that his legacy lives on as a hero, a resistor and freedom fighter.
Born Cassius Clay, the legendary Ali died Friday in a Phoenix Hospital where he was being treated for a respiratory ailment. The cause of death was septic shock, a family spokesperson told the media.
“He used the platform of boxing to be a transformer much as did Jack Johnson (first African American world heavyweight boxing champion), the way Joe Louis did…. He was a hero of biblical proportions, and we all gained strength from his success,” Jackson said during a press conference held at PUSH.
Jackson said Ali embraced the Civil Rights Movements in the 1960s.
It was an era, Jackson said, where Muhammad and other Blacks could not use a hotel, couldn’t sit in a theater or use a public toilet. He could not eat where he wished. “He felt a sense of betrayal,” Jackson said referring to the social rejections the boxer experienced during the 1960 era.
“As he fought back against that system he was defied and called by media controversial. He was not controversial. He was maladjusted. Segregation is controversial. Blacks in the military didn’t have uniforms as whites. That was controversial. Black’s who paid taxes but could not vote was controversial.
“Segregation and democracy could not be reconciled. He rebelled against that system. Ali identified with that struggle and used his person, his fame to illuminate that state of mind in our country,” said Jackson.
When Ali joined the Nation of Islam, Jackson said, “That was an act of defiance. He identified with Jack Johnson who fought back” against racism. Ali, Jackson said, “was defiant…and in the end he prevailed because we did get a public accommodation bill in 1964. We did get the right to vote.”
Referring to the time when Ali refused to go to Vietnam, Jackson said, “We later agreed that it was the wrong war” having lost thousands on that war. “He was willing to risk his all” to stand on his principles. “He gave up all of his wealth and statue, fame and principles for his personal dignity.”
Having won a court battle for the right to fight again, Jackson said he became a champion again. Jackson said Ali’s shining the light on segregation and speaking out against the Vietnam War “where he lost lives, money and honor, those acts of bravery gave him a stature that was even more global in this fight as a social transformer.”
“He was a freedom fighter in the height of this era, he was rejected as a martyr…. He is a legend. His legacy will live far beyond the grave….” Ali, Jackson said, “used the power of the platform to make the world better. We are grateful that he came away a champion in the ring” and for being a “social transformer beyond the ring.”
“The act of defiance for the right reason made him a hero to so many of us. In the end, Ali was reviled in 196. Ali did not change. That which he fought against changed; America changing for the better and the stimulus for that change” was Muhammad Ali.
Ali, Jackson said, “made this a better world because of the many civil rights gains like the right to vote. “He set the tone for what action should be. Most people adjust than resist. So many resent but never fight back. Ali used his power to resist at great risk. That is what made him not only a champion but a hero,” said Jackson.
Jackson again made an appeal for Jack Johnson, the first Black heavyweight boxing champion, to be pardoned.
A daylong public memorial service and funeral procession will be held on Friday in Louisville, Kentucky where he grew up and learned his craft of boxing. Johnson was found guilty of the Mann Act for marrying a white woman during a time when miscegenation was illegal.
Among those confirmed guests will be former President Bill Clinton, the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr., comedian Billy Crystal and journalist Bryant Gumbel. Ali suffered for decades with Parkinson’s disease. A family spokesperson told the media Ali died of Septic shock.
His daughter, Hana Ali Tweeted: “Our hearts are literally hurting But we are so happy daddy is free now. We all tried to stay strong and whispered in his ear, ‘You can go now. We will be okay. We love love. Thank you. You can go back to God now…’.” She said though all of her father’s organs had failed, his heart would not stop beating for 30 minutes.
“No one has ever seen anything like it. A true testament to the strength of his spirit and will. Thank you all for your love and support”!!!! She called her father a “Humble Mountain” who has “now gone home to God. God bless you daddy. You are the love of my life.”