Ali will receive the medal in a public ceremony on Thursday, September 13, 2012 at 7:00 p.m. at the National Constitution Center on Independence Mall in Historic Philadelphia. Ali has long served as an icon of constitutional ideals and the realization of the American dream – all the while challenging and expanding the very definition of “We the People.” The Olympic gold medalist and boxing legend has been an outspoken fighter for religious and civil rights; a conscientious objector who took his battle to the Supreme Court and won; an ambassador for peace and justice worldwide; and a tireless humanitarian and philanthropist. Even as he celebrated his 70th birthday this year, Ali has continued to break new ground as an advocate for those suffering from Parkinson’s disease, a disease he has battled since 1982. A descendant of pre-Civil War era American slaves, Ali grew up in the segregated South, where he experienced prejudice and discrimination firsthand. Upon returning to the United States after winning an Olympic Gold Medal in Rome in 1960, he was turned away from a “whites-only” restaurant. In 1967, Ali refused induction into the U.S. Armed Forces due to his religious beliefs. As a result, he was arrested, fined, stripped of his boxing license and title, and found guilty of draft evasion. Though Ali was prepared to pay the price for his convictions, the Supreme Court reversed the decision in 1971, ruling that his refusal stemmed from his constitutionally protected religious beliefs. Ali regained his title in 1974 and retired from the ring in 1981.
He has since devoted his life to helping promote world peace, civil rights, cross-cultural understanding, interfaith relations, humanitarianism, hunger relief, and the commonality of basic human values. His work as an ambassador for peace began in 1985, when he flew to Lebanon to secure the release of four hostages. Ali also has made goodwill missions to Afghanistan and North Korea; delivered over $1 million in medical aid to Cuba; traveled to Iraq to secure the release of 15 United States hostages during the first Gulf War; and journeyed to South Africa to meet Nelson Mandela upon his release from prison. His recent attempt to free two American hikers held captive in Iran reinforces his tireless commitment to promoting freedom, tolerance, and humanity around the world. Throughout his boxing career, Ali’s highly publicized fights in locales such as Kinshasa, Manila, and Kuala Lumpur brought increased global attention to the developing world. Today, he continues to serve those in need overseas, providing over 232 million meals to the world’s hungry. Ali has hand-delivered food and medical supplies to children in Cote D’Ivoire, Indonesia, Mexico, and Morocco, among other countries. In addition to his international efforts, Ali is equally devoted to helping charities at home. He has visited countless numbers of soup kitchens and hospitals, and helped organizations including the Make-A-Wish-Foundation and the Special Olympics. Ali once said, “I’ve always wanted to be more than just a boxer. More than just the three-time heavyweight champion. I wanted to use my fame, and this face that everyone knows so well, to help uplift and inspire people around the world.”