By Adedayo Adejobi with Agency Reports
Boxing legend Muhammad Ali was laid to rest yesterday at Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville, Kentucky, after one last drive through his hometown in a motorcade bearing his remains, following a funeral procession attended by thousands of fans.
Ali’s private burial ceremony was followed by a memorial, attended by world leaders including former US president Bill Clinton.
As the interfaith service got underway, the crowd of up to 15,000 burst into applause and chanted, “Ali! Ali!” when a Muslim religious leader welcomed the audience to “the home of the people’s champ.”
Lonnie Ali, wife of the fallen boxing legend, said her husband was “proof that adversity can make you stronger”, growing up in a segregated country.
Kevin Cosby, pastor of a Louisville church, said Ali “dared to love America’s most unloved race”, referring to African-Americans.
The processional passed important spots in Ali’s life before heading to the ceremony for the private burial.
A public memorial began around 3 p.m. American time, yesterday afternoon.
Speakers paid rousing tributes to the boxing legend at a memorial service in his home city of Louisville, in the US state of Kentucky.
The interfaith event took place hours after thousands of well-wishers said farewell as his coffin was paraded through the streets of the city.
He was buried in a private ceremony attended by friends and family.
The ex-heavyweight champion and rights activist died last Friday aged 74.
The service, attended by dignitaries and several thousand people who acquired free tickets, was held at the KFC Yum! Centre.
After a Koran reading, local Protestant minister Kevin Cosby set the tone of the event, saying that Muhammad Ali had “infused in Africans a sense of somebodiness”.
“Before James Brown said ‘I’m black and I’m proud’, Muhammad Ali said ‘I’m black and I’m pretty’,” he said.
Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of a progressive Jewish magazine, used his speech to launch a blistering attack on injustice against black people and Muslims.
“The way to honour Muhammad Ali is to be Muhammad Ali today,” he said. “Speak out and refuse to follow the path of conformity.”
Former President Bill Clinton delivered one of the eulogies. Comedian Billy Crystal also delivered a eulogy, while sports journalist Bryant Gumbel, the daughter of civil rights activist Malcolm X, Attallah Shabazz, and Ali’s wife, Lonnie, and daughters, Maryum and Rasheda, also spoke.
Among those who attended the service was King Abdullah of Jordan. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attendedThursday’s prayer ceremony and the service, but was denied access.
The reasons for his departure are not clear, though there are reports of differences with the funeral’s organisers.
US President Barack Obama did not attend the memorial because of his eldest daughter’s high school graduation, but Valerie Jarrett, one of his closest aides, read a letter on his behalf.
White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett – who knew Ali – is represented the President.
The motorcade procession began at about 10:35 local time (14:35 GMT), more than an hour behind schedule, and took the coffin past his childhood home, the Ali Center, the Center for African American Heritage and then down Muhammad Ali Boulevard.
Onlookers lining the roadside waved, took photos and chanted “Ali, Ali” as a cortege led by the hearse carrying his coffin drove through the downtown area.
Fans threw flowers at the hearse and rose petals were scattered along the route.
In one neighbourhood, several young men ran alongside the vehicle carrying a placard which read: “Ali is the greatest, thanks 4 all the memories.”
The cortege then brought the coffin to the Cave Hill cemetery, where Muhammad Ali was buried in a private ceremony. Actor Will Smith and ex-boxer Lennox Lewis were among the pallbearers.