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.
Given his history of activism for the cause of freedom, Ali was selected in 1987 by the California Bicentennial Foundation for the U.S. Constitution to personify the vitality of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. He was featured in the Tournament of Roses parade, launching the U.S. Constitution’s 200th anniversary commemoration.
“It is very fitting that Muhammad Ali, a representative for the bicentennial of the Constitution, be awarded the prestigious Liberty Medal in 2012, as the nation celebrates the 225th anniversary of our founding document,” said President Bill Clinton, Chair of the National Constitution Center. “Ali embodies the spirit of the Liberty Medal by embracing the ideals of the Constitution – freedom, self-governance, equality, and empowerment – and helping to spread them across the globe.”
The Liberty Medal ceremony will mark Ali’s return to the National Constitution Center. At a special Flag Day ceremony on June 14, 2003 – just before the Center’s official opening – he was the first to raise the American flag that hangs in the Grand Hall Overlook and had previously flown over every state and territory capitol.
“Muhammad Ali symbolizes all that makes America great, while pushing us as a people and as a nation to be better,’” said National Constitution Center President and CEO David Eisner. “Each big fight of his life has inspired a new chapter of civic action. We look forward to welcoming him back to the Center, particularly during this momentous 225th anniversary year.”
“As the Liberty Medal recipient during this historic year for the Constitution, Muhammad Ali represents how far we have come as a nation and the spirit of determination, ambition, and civic service that will propel America forward for 225 more years and beyond,” said Doug DeVos, Chairman of the Center’s Executive Committee.
“While many know Ali as a legendary boxer, his contributions outside of the ring carry even greater significance,” Governor Tom Corbett said. “A true champion for the people, his biggest triumph lies in his legacy as a philanthropist, activist, and example of all that our Constitution represents. He is most deserving of this high honor.”
“Muhammad Ali is an outstanding nominee to receive the 2012 Liberty Medal,” said Mayor Michael A. Nutter. “For more than half a century, Ali has been committed to fighting for peace, justice, and civil rights for all in the spirit of this award. The City of Philadelphia, the birthplace of American liberty, is proud to host this prestigious ceremony honoring Muhammad Ali.”
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. He also annually participates in "Celebrity Fight Night," which generates funds for the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Research Center at Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, Arizona.
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.”
In November 2005, Ali and his wife Lonnie opened the Muhammad Ali Center in their hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. Both an education center and museum experience, the Ali Center inspires children and adults to be as great as they can be, and encourages people around the globe to form new commitments in their lives in areas of personal growth, integrity, and respect for others.
Muhammad Ali has received some of the world’s most prestigious awards. He has been honored by Amnesty International with their “Lifetime Achievement Award.” Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations and former Liberty Medal recipient, bestowed him with a citation as “United Nations Messenger of Peace.” Ali also was named the “International Ambassador of Jubilee 2000,” a global organization dedicated to relieving debt in developing nations. In 2005, he was presented with the Presidential Citizens Medal and awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
The Liberty Medal was established in 1988 to commemorate the bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution. Given annually, the medal honors men and women of courage and conviction who strive to secure the blessings of liberty to people around the globe. The Liberty Medal was first administered by the National Constitution Center in 2006, when Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton were honored for their bipartisan humanitarian efforts on behalf of the victims of the tsunami in Southeast Asia and the hurricanes on the Gulf Coast.
Last year’s medal was awarded to former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates. Other past Liberty Medal winners include Nelson Mandela, Shimon Peres, Kofi Annan, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and Bono. The Medal also has been awarded to organizations, including Doctors Without Borders and CNN International. Six recipients of the Medal subsequently have won the Nobel Peace Prize.
National Constitution Center Board member Ira Lubert of Independence Capital Partners will sponsor the Liberty Medal award in 2012, as he has for the past six years. Citizens Bank is underwriting the VIP Reception for the 2012 Liberty Medal. Citizens Bank has supported the Liberty Medal at the National Constitution Center since 2006. Hublot, the luxury Swiss brand that brings the "Art of Fusion" to watchmaking, will celebrate the 225th anniversary of the Constitution with a limited edition "U.S. Liberty Bang" timepiece.
The City of Philadelphia and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania also support the Liberty Medal.
The National Constitution Center is the first and only nonprofit, nonpartisan institution devoted to the most powerful vision of freedom ever expressed: the U.S. Constitution. Located on Independence Mall in Historic Philadelphia, the birthplace of American freedom, the Center illuminates constitutional ideals and inspires active citizenship through a state-of-the-art museum experience, including hundreds of interactive exhibits, films and rare artifacts; must-see feature exhibitions; the internationally acclaimed, 360-degree theatrical production Freedom Rising; and the iconic Signers' Hall, where visitors can sign the Constitution alongside 42 life-size, bronze statues of the Founding Fathers. As America's forum for constitutional dialogue,the Center engages diverse, distinguished leaders of government, public policy, journalism and scholarship in timely public discussions and debates. The Center also houses the Annenberg Center for Education and Outreach, the national hub for constitutional education, which offers cutting-edge civic learning resources both onsite and online. Freedom is calling. Answer it at the National Constitution Center. For more information, call 215.409.6700 or visit http://www.constitutioncenter.org.
Past Recipients of the Liberty Medal
Dr. Robert M. Gates, former U.S. Secretary of Defense
Tony Blair, former British Prime Minister
2009 Steven Spielberg
2008 Mikhail Gorbachev, former Soviet leader
2007 Bono and DATA
2006 George H.W. Bush and William J. Clinton, former U.S. Presidents
2005 Viktor Yushchenko, President of Ukraine
2004 Hamid Karzai, President of Afghanistan
2003 Sandra Day O’Connor, Associate Justice, U.S. Supreme Court
2002 Colin Powell, U.S. Secretary of State
2001 Kofi Annan, United Nations Secretary-General*
2000 Dr. James Watson and Dr. Francis Crick, co-discoverers of the structure of DNA
1999 Kim Dae Jung, President of South Korea*
1998 Senator George J. Mitchell, Irish peace negotiator
1997 CNN International
1996 King Hussein I of Jordan and Shimon Peres, former Prime Minister of Israel
1995 Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees
1994 Václav Havel, President of the Czech Republic
1993 F.W. de Klerk, President of South Africa* and Nelson Mandela, President of the African National Congress*
1992 Thurgood Marshall, former Associate Justice, U.S. Supreme Court
1991 Oscar Arias, President of Costa Rica and Médecins sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders)*
1990 Jimmy Carter, former U.S. President*
1989 Lech Walesa, founder of Solidarity, Poland
* Liberty Medal recipients who subsequently won the Nobel Peace Prize