Earlier this month, Black Enterprise reported on the more than yearlong, uphill battle a Kentucky-based educator, Robert Holmes III, has faced in hopes of honoring Muhammad Ali in Louisville, the city where “The People’s Champ” was born and raised. Back in June 2016, Holmes launched the Global Friends of Muhammad Ali, a grassroots effort that is committed to renaming the Louisville International Airport to “Muhammad Ali International Airport.” The group started a petition on Change.org, calling on Ali fans to support an initiative that would pay tribute to the legendary boxer. After being shared on MPowerChange.org, it collected over 14,000 signatures.
(Image; Muhammad Ali 1966 via Wikimedia/Creative Commons)
Despite receiving an overwhelming number of signatures and even support from members of the Ali family, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer’s spokesperson Chris Poynter told Black Enterprise that “there is no active committee looking at the matter of renaming the airport.” He added that the power to change the name lies within the Louisville Regional Airport Authority, which “will ultimately make any decision to rename the airport.” The Louisville Regional Airport Authority, however, also confirmed that it “has no current plans to change the name of Louisville International Airport (SDF).”
In addition, Fischer’s office reached out to BE emphasizing that the city has already paid homage to their hometown hero in a variety of other ways. “Louisville has several major Ali memorials already, including the Muhammad Ali Center (a major institution) and a prominent street named after The Champ. By focusing only on the airport, you leave the impression that the Champ’s hometown isn’t honoring his legacy, which is the furthest from the truth,” said Poynter.
Holmes, however, dismissed the mayor’s response as “a great attempt at a political spin to dodge the question. It’s obvious that Louisville has done things to honor its greatest citizen, but that’s not the [issue].” Holmes added that other cities, like New Orleans, have renamed their airports after superstar natives. “If they can name their airport after Louis Armstrong, who’s a jazz musician, certainly Louisville should be able to coalesce around the idea of renaming the airport.”
According to Holmes, the opposition to rename the airport boils down to the fact that Ali was an outspoken black man who voiced opposition to racism and war. “I feel that there is a racial component to it and I think that’s one of the reasons why people don’t want to touch it,” he says. “Because he was a very brash, young man in very turbulent times during the 60’s and the early 70’s. He spoke his mind and he stood his ground and he stood up for what he believed in. He stood up against social injustice and racial disparities not only all over the world, but he also spoke about the racial disparities right here in his hometown.” After winning the heavyweight championship, the boxing legend “returned back to Louisville, [but] he didn’t receive a total warm welcome from the entire city. There were segments of the white community that did not celebrate Muhammad Ali and you still have that today.”
Although Mayor Fischer’s office told Black Enterprise that the airport authority will make the ultimate decision to rename the airport, Holmes pointed out that the mayor maintains power to appoint “several members of the board.”
“If he wanted to make that decision, to say that I want to rename this airport in honor of Muhammad Ali, I don’t believe it is that hard,” said Holmes.