Zora Folley exhibit on full display at Chandler Museum
Sept. 17, 2021
(Correction: Photos in interview Courtesy of Chandler Museum)
Legendary documentary maker Ken Burns turns his lens to boxing legend Muhammed Ali in a series airing on Arizona PBS on Sunday, September 19. A former Chandler city councilman once jumped in the ring with Ali, and his story is featured in an exhibit at the Chandler Museum. We will talk to Jody Crago, the administrator of the Chandler Museum, about the story of Zora Folley and learn about the exhibit honoring him.
Folley was born in Dallas but spent most of his life in Chandler, Arizona. Crago said that Folley would have had to ride a bus to Phoenix in order to attend high school. Instead, Folley worked and then lied about his age so he could join the military. After his commander was hurt, Folley volunteered to replace him in a boxing match. The rest was history.
This led to a meeting between Folley and Ali. Ali asked his opponent a simple question: What’s my name?
“Muhammed Ali,” Folley responded.
“He [Ali] sometimes gave degrading nicknames to some of his opponents,” Crago said. “They asked what he was going to call [Zora] Folley and he said ‘He’s such a nice man, he’s a family man, he’s quiet, you can’t get mad at him, I’m just going to call him Zora.'”
Ali won the fight, which turned about to be one of the last for Folley.
“You had two men in Folley and Ali who lived very different lives but faced similar challenges,” Crago said. “In the end, they remained good friends until Zora passed in 1972.”
Following retirement from boxing, Folley returned to Chandler to work with non-profit organizations. When a vacancy opened, he was appointed to the Chandler City Council. He became the first African-American City Councilman in the history of Chandler.
Now, the Zora Folley exhibit calls the Chandler Museum home.
“It’s an experience of this hometown hero reaching the pinnacle of sports achievement and then continuing to serve his community,” Crago said.