Kentucky State University celebrates connections to Muhammad Ali - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Kentucky State University celebrates connections to Muhammad Ali

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Muhammad Ali schooled opponents in the squared circle but earned an honorary doctorate outside the boxing ring.

The man known as The Greatest left Central High school and went to the Olympics, however, a lot of his classmates attended Kentucky State University. That's why it was not that unusual to see the champ on campus from time to time and why he is pictured in a mural celebrating the schools 130th year anniversary celebration.

"This Cadillac come down the street with this guy sitting up on the back seat," explained Wendell Thomas.

Thomas was a student at Kentucky State University in the early 60s.

He said, "He stopped there, got out and everybody said, that's Cassius Clay."

Thomas remembered the first time he saw the greatest on campus at Kentucky State.

He said, "And the word got around so the students on the inside came out and so he drew a crowd quickly."

And it was somewhat of a reunion or homecoming for the champ.

Thomas said, "There were a number of students in the group who attended Central High School and knew who he was."

It would be the first of many visits to Kentucky State over the next 40 plus years for Ali.

"Prize fighter Muhammad Ali," said Donald Lyons, as he looks thru a KSU yearbook.

Lyons is executive director of the KSU foundation. He is also considered the local historian.

Lyons said, "I've seen it all in 52 years."

He said Kentucky State's yearbooks and newspapers are loaded with pictures of Ali  because, like everyone else, the school took ownership of the champ. That's why he was given an honorary doctorate degree.

Lyons said, "He was an achiever and this institution always grasped and enhanced or brought in achievers."

"I think he and Mandela are the two most famous people that received an honorary doctorate," said Thomas.

Later in life, Ali would be known as the Louisville Lip, a notorious trash talker, but Thomas said, some of his classmates from Louisville also had the gift of gab. "And we would always be told by the Louisville people, "we have Ali, what do you have?"

Kentucky State's 130th anniversary celebration will include a special tribute to the greatest.

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