Louisville's finest: Muhammad Ali's hometown hails the boxer's legacy

To visit the Louisville suburb where Muhammad Ali grew up, to speak with neighbours who remember the cheeky and defiant boy with the sense of destiny, is to go back in time.

It is a journey into segregated America.

A journey into a racially-charged Kentucky that, back then, assumed a skinny black boy with a poor academic record would amount to nothing.

There is something exhilarating about speaking to a neighbour who remembers the young teenage Cassius Clay - a nobody at that stage in the late 1950s - predicting he would be "The Greatest."

Today America is saluting the passing of one its most famous sons, certainly its most recognized.

But half a century ago, many white Americans saw Muhammad Ali as a threat to the social order, as an outrageous and provocative figure.

Muhammad Ali was a bold and forceful character. Credit: PA

It's a reminder of this country's ability to change and learn.

But ultimately it is a tribute to the son of a sign-painter who challenged America to look at its prejudices and assumptions.

Many people will reflect today on Ali's magical and theatrical performances in the ring.

But African-Americans will remember someone different: A man who dared to defy; a man who refused to let others define him; a man who changed his country in the process.