Ali to be awarded Liberty Medal

Saying, "He will be the face of the Constitution's 225th anniversary," David Eisner, CEO of the National Constitution Center, announces July 5, 2012 that boxing legend Muhammad Ali has been selected to receive the 2012 Liberty Medal.(TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer )
Saying, "He will be the face of the Constitution's 225th anniversary," David Eisner, CEO of the National Constitution Center, announces July 5, 2012 that boxing legend Muhammad Ali has been selected to receive the 2012 Liberty Medal.(TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer )
Posted: July 06, 2012

IN WHAT Mayor Nutter described as a "fantastic choice," the National Constitution Center announced Thursday that boxing icon Muhammad Ali will receive this year's Liberty Medal.

Ali, 70, was lauded by Constitution Center president and CEO David Eisner for being an "ambassador for peace around the world and a humanitarian and philanthropist." Eisner said that Ali "embodies how far we've come as a nation and how far we continue to go if we fight for the liberty of each individual and group."

Ali was born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. on Jan. 17, 1942, in Louisville, Ky., before changing his name in 1964 when he converted to Islam.

Eisner described Ali as a "conscientious objector" for actions that led him to his World Heavyweight title being stripped away in 1967.

Ali refused to fight in the Vietnam War when he was drafted and was banned from boxing for 3?1/2 years. Ali took his fight to the U.S. Supreme Court and won.

Ali and his wife, Lonnie, have continued their efforts throughout his retirement, including opening the Muhammad Ali Center, in Louisville, which was built in 2005 as an educational and cultural center.

He will be making his return, in a way, to the Constitution Center when he is awarded the Liberty Medal during a public ceremony on Sept. 13, Eisner said. In 2003, just before the center opened, Ali was the first to raise the American flag that hangs in the Grand Hall Overlook.

Ali announced in 1984 that he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, a debilitating condition that causes muscle aches and shaking throughout the body. Although he's had the disease for almost three decades, Ali's health has noticeably declined in the past few years.

As a result of his condition, Ali will be present at the ceremony to accept the Liberty Medal, but his wife will speak for him, said Ashley Berke, director of public relations at the Constitution Center.

This award comes seven years after Ali was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the U.S., by President George W. Bush in 2005.

The ceremony is part of the recognition of the 225th anniversary of the U.S. Constitution. The medal itself was created in 1988 in honor of the bicentennial of the document, and is "given annually to men and women of courage and conviction who strive to secure the blessings of liberty to people around the world," said Eisner.

Last year's recipient was former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and winners in past years include former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, former presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, and Bono.

Contact Sean Carlin at 215-854-5926, carlins@phillynews.com or on Twitter @SeanCarlin84.

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