Local voices on Muhammad Ali’s passing

Muhammad Ali’s impact went far beyond his stellar boxing career as he became a powerful voice for civil rights and in the fight against Parkinson’s disease, which afflicted him for three decades before his death Friday at age 74 in Arizona.

Local residents and his friends commented on Ali and his passing.

Jessie Gooding, 60 years in the civil rights movement, including 18 as president of Dayton NAACP

“At the time I didn’t quite recognize what he was trying to do, but later on, when his title was taken away from him, I realized the impact he might have on changing America.”

“At that time America was so anti-Muslim, they couldn’t understand how he would give up so much, not realizing that was making him a real man.”

“He had an impact on me, Dr. (Martin Luther) King and the rest of them, all the civil rights folks.”

“I think it was a sad day to America that such an icon has passed.”

John Drake, owner of Drake’s Downtown Gym in Dayton

“He was a master of his craft. He was more of a humanitarian. And such an incredible man.”

“What was really impressive also was Ali (how) he handled (Parkinson’s disease) with grace, never shied away from it, and raised millions of dollars for it.”

“It’s hard to believe any athlete in this day in age would stand up for what they believe in and give up a multi-million dollar career for what they believe in. It’s very humbling.”

“The Joe Frazier fight was a huge deal when I was growing up. My dad listened to it on the radio. I remember my dad waking me up and whispering into my ear that Joe Frazier had beaten Muhammad Ali.”

Greg Simms Sr., retired night sports editor for Dayton Daily News

Simms became friends with Ali and interviewed him multiple times as a writer for Ebony magazine, The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer and the Dayton Daily News.

“He was a great friend, fun-loving, loved people. He was the most famous man in the world and he would go out in the public just to get the attention.”

“He was just like a good buddy. Very smart. Just a good guy to hang out with.”

Simms recalled being at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport once with Ali and said when the boxer arrived, “I’m telling you, O’Hare nearly shut down. People left their posts” and were banging on the Plexiglass wall “yelling ‘Ali.’ He ate that up.”

“He couldn’t get enough of people.”

Simms recalls a trip to from Chicago to Cincinnati in the large bus Ali loved to drive. On the way they picked up a hitchhiker and his girlfriend and then when they arrived in Cincinnati, Ali wanted to go to the rougher sections of the city so they stopped at some bars, parking out front in the bus with the words “Muhammad Ali” written across the front. “Somebody recognized him and in a flash that place emptied,” said Simms. “They were out there on the street.”

Simms said the first time he knew Ali was becoming ill was when he was in Las Vegas covering boxing matches. “He said, ‘I’m sick.’ I noticed there was a slur in his words and he was talking very quietly. He was a loud guy and this time I could barely hear him.”

Derrick L. Foward, president of the NAACP Dayton Unit and vice president for Ohio

“The person born as Cassius Clay, who ultimately changed his name to Muhammad Ali, was a leader in his own right before even becoming the heavyweight champion of the world. He stood up for social justice issues, civil rights and American rights, standing on his principles for what he believed in. As we know, he defied the United States Armed Forces. So this is a man who was not only great as an athlete in the sport of boxing, but also courageous in his stand for what he believed in.”

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