trigger warning: likely typos and run-on sentences… you’ve been warned.
Ali has always been a dividing point (one of many!) for the city of our origin and those old wounds and arguments resurfaced with this week’s announcement that Louisville was renaming it’s airport in his honor. the point of contention: Ali refused to fight in Vietnam – for those on the right this made him a traitor; for those on the left, an iconic hero and a patriot in the truest sense. Ali was a conscientious objector. he didn’t “dodge”, he disagreed. was stripped of boxing titles and sent to prison for his beliefs. he never claimed to be a pacifist, because in pugilism he is G.O.A.T.
Ali believed in the fight. the paid fight… and the good fight. the right fight.
these beliefs are what made him the world’s most recognizable humanitarian. and many in his hometown hate him for it.
in Louisville, Ali is as despised as he is adored. his detractors all say that race has nothing to do with it, that this is about PRINCIPLE. and patriotism. and yet many of these same people voted for Trump, a most braggadocios draft-dodger who laughed at the lack of ingenuity of those unable to get out of it. THIS is their goat. they are his scapegoat… they don’t like him, but they admire him for it.
so… indisputably, this IS about race!
fuck the haters.
the often democratic leadership of this mostly left-leaning city in a sea-state of political red all LOVE Ali’s Legacy and what his association with the city does for its image. he has a boulevard and a museum and now an airport. much more than the lonely little block in front of the city’s ferderal building dedicated to MLK – whose brother actually preached at a baptist church on 18th street; a street that racism forbade leadership from re-christening as Martin Luther King Jr Blvd… they said it was because it was erasure of the heritage of what the street designation of EIGHTEEN meant and represented to their identity as Louisvillians (no one could ever fully enlighten us as to what 18th Street actually represented, but it was “heritage” for the poor, Portland area Whites financially trapped in Louisville’s West End in the wake of the city’s desegregation movement: approximately 8 square miles of residential neighborhoods abandoned in white-flight due to black-fear.
so, again… race. seldom is any societal divide in America not about race.
NO to America’s greatest civil rights icon with Louisville ties getting more respectable real estate in namesake, but at least we continue to do right by Ali.
and yes, TECHNICALLY, it’s The Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport (to quiet those who may be in their feelings at me leaving the city’s name out of this post’s headline), but also TECHNICALLY, the airport is “international” only in the fact that UPS (the former nameholder for the airport) ships internationally from this hub. not a single commercial flight leaves our city for foreign lands. so PFFT! to yall…
anyway… i don’t have any artwork that features anything “Louisville” in it, but Ali as Patron Saint of Louisville Poets, Bullshitters, and Shit Talkers does make appearances in a few of my poems, most notably this one from my Fair Gabbro series where the mythology of Ali’s Olympic gold medal is featured. it’s more prose than poem (my aesthetic) and likely my least favorite in the series – but it was the first one in the series before i even realized its potential as such.
thank you, Muhammad Ali, for all that you have meant to the world, to America, to the city of Louisville, and to this
angry conscientious Black poet from 42nd and Larkwood.