ATLANTIC CITY - Ralph E. Hunter Sr., founder and president of the African American Heritage Museum, holds a ticket stub from the 1974 Frazier vs. Ali fight. “I was at that fight,” he says with a proud smile.
It’s one piece of memorabilia that’s too close to his heart to be on display. But he is the caretaker of more than 11,000 pieces of African American archives that make up the African American Heritage Museum.
It’s this vast collection that allowed the museum to quickly create and open a new exhibit at The Noyes Arts Garage that pays tribute to the life and legacy of Muhammad Ali. The exhibit, “Ali: Sting Like a Bee,” opened on June 13, just 10 days after Ali’s death.
“We keep space available at the museum to tell an instant story,” continued Hunter. “Whenever something of this magnitude takes place, we search back into more than 11,000 pieces in our four warehouses to put an exhibit together.” Normally it takes at least one year to put together an exhibit for the museum.
“A museum is duty-bound to tell a picturesque story about its history, and we are the African American Heritage Museum and we enjoy telling stories about the things we have in our archives.”
The pop-up exhibit features magazine covers, original art work and other pieces of memorabilia. A ceramic imprint of Ali’s left hand from the Ken Davis collection allows visitors to see the size of the athlete’s weapons. A moderately-sized piece by LeRoy Neiman depicts each round in the 1971 Joe Frazier vs. Muhammad Ali fight.
Some pieces such as the Ali Wheaties box and a set of Starting Lineup boxing dolls of Ali and Frazier are included in the museum’s traveling museum. “Visual art is the most important thing you can discuss with a child in elementary school or even high school. They can actually see and almost feel and touch and smell Muhammad Ali,” said Hunter.
Original artwork created by Blockhead Customs is also included in the exhibit. “Ali vs. Tyson,” an original Blockhead Customs piece is available for purchase for $4,500.
The exhibit also includes a framed poster collage that depicts Ali’s life. Prints of the collage can be purchased from the museum for $25.
A video about Muhammad Ali, also known as Cassius Clay, is available to view at the museum, and the Collector’s Edition of “People Magazine” and “Sports Illustrated,” which are both currently available on newsstands, are on display.
“Ali is a very important part of the history, not just because he was a boxer, but for African Americans to understand his belief,” said Hunter as he spoke about when Ali was suspended from boxing for three years. “It taught me and a lot of others that sometimes you have to wait for that prize … He took the long route and he was able to be reinstated and became heavy weight champion of the world once again.”
Hunter met Ali one year on an airplane. “He was sitting up in first class and he was gentle as a lamb.” He said Ali often came to Atlantic City and he trained at Bird Gym in Pleasantville. “He would mingle with the folks in town. You could just look at those eyes of his. His eyes were so, so, so very exciting.”
The “Ali: Sting Like a Bee” exhibit continues to grow as additional memorabilia is donated to the museum. It will remain on display through July 31.
Other exhibits at the African American Heritage Museum include “A Collection of Art from the Estates of Frederic Bacon and Lawrence Faust” through Sept. 30 in Newtonville and “The Life and Times of Prince Rogers Nelson” through Sept. 30 also in Newtonville.
The Noyes Arts Garage is at 2200 Fairmont Ave., Atlantic City; call (609) 350-6662. Hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. The Newtonville museum is at the Dr. Martin Luther King Center, 661 Jackson Road.; call (609) 704-5495. Hours are 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. Visit www.aahmsnj.com