Louisville on Friday bid a final farewell to their favourite son, sending off in style a man who was born 74 years ago in the segregated suburbs, and was buried in a ceremony befitting the giant he became.
Muhammad Ali had planned his funeral in detail, requesting the presence of Bill Clinton, Billy Crystal, Will Smith and boxing’s greatest – alongside his family and 18,000 fans.
He also wanted guarantees that all faiths would be represented, hence a series of powerful speeches and performances from rabbis, a Catholic priest, Buddhist monks and a Native American chief.
“Muhammad indicated that when his time came, he wanted to use his death as a teaching method for the world,” said his wife Lonnie, speaking with assurance and poise that defied her enormous loss.
“He had grown up in segregation. He never became embittered enough to quit or engage in violence. So even in death, Muhammad has something to say.”
And his presence in the Kentucky city was overwhelming.
Dr Kevin Cosby, a preacher in Louisville, paid tribute to a civil rights champion who fought to overcome the racism and division of his time.
He was a pioneer – “the people’s champ” – said Dr Cosby, to whoops and cheers from the fired-up auditorium.
“Before James Brown said I’m black and I’m proud, Muhammad Ali said I’m black and I’m pretty,” he said in a barnstorming address.
Orrin Hatch, a Mormon Republican senator for Utah, joked: “It’s hard for this old senator to follow that.”
But, in his own way, he did: telling an anecdote about how he invited Ali to a Mormon service in Salt Lake City, only for Ali to charm everyone by handing out signed copies of a Muslim text.
Rabbi Michael Lerner turned the political heat up several degrees, launching a series of blistering political attacks.
“We will not tolerate politicians or anyone else putting down Muslims or blaming Muslims for the sins of a few,” the rabbi yelled. “We know what it is like to be demeaned.”
He was scathing about Israel, Turkish attacks on Kurdish militants, and Wall Street – telling the stunned and shouting audience: “Tell your next president, tell her!”