Tuesday, June 18, 2002

Symbol of flame brings home
concept of freedom

By Stephenie Steitzer ssteitzer@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Abolitionist John Rankin would light a candle in the window of his Ripley home to let runaway slaves know it was safe to cross the Ohio River to his frame house on the bluffs known as “Freedom Hill.”

Muhammad Ali acknowledges the crowd before 'lighting' a symbolic flame.
(Michael E. Keating photo)
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        The flame — seen from the Kentucky banks near Maysville — soon became a symbol of freedom to more than 100,000 slaves who escaped through the Underground Railroad. The symbol was a big part of Monday's Underground Railroad Freedom Center groundbreaking ceremony.

        Former world heavyweight boxing champion and Kentucky native Muhammad Ali silently illuminated a symbolic flame to signal the 700-member choir's songs.

        Chief among those songs was “This Little Light of Mine,” the call that became one of the anthems of the 1960s civil rights movement.

        Mr. Ali is “a legend in peace and freedom movements,” said Ernest Britton, the center's communications manager. “He's a legend around the world.”

The enduring flame is the symbolic image of the center, here represented by a nylon mock-up.
(Michael E. Keating photo)
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        The notion of the flame has also been incorporated into the Freedom Center's campaign slogan, “Lighting Freedom's Flame.''

        When the museum is complete in 2004, an “eternal flame” similar to the one near former President Kennedy's grave at Arlington National Cemetery will burn outside the building.

        Because of Cincinnati city fire code restrictions, Mr. Ali's flame was not real.

        Mr. Britton said the symbolic lighting is better because they wouldn't want to extinguish a real flame at the end of the ceremony until the 2004 installation is done.

        Hyde Park philanthropist Lois Rosenthal, who with her husband, Richard, donated $300,000 to the “Lighting Freedom's Flame” campaign, said the flame is a universal symbol.

        “I think that for us, the flame is symbolic for all nationalities and for all religions,” she said.


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