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It looks like the legendary boxer and activist Muhammad Ali may have inherited his revolutionary spirit from Archer Alexander, an enslaved man who “heroically fought both for his own freedom and against slavery,” reports the Washington Post.
According to Ali’s family research, DNA evidence indicates that Ali was the great-great-great grandson of Alexander. The connection comes from Ali’s father Cassius Clay, Sr., whose mother Edith Greathouse was Alexander’s great-granddaughter. Ali’s third cousin Keith Winstead (who retired from a computer manufacturing career) made the incredible discovery on the website 23andMe, a personal genomics and biotechnology company based in California.
“He would have loved knowing he was connected to someone like that,” Ali’s daughter Maryum said. “He was ahead of people in understanding that there was a connection that went back through slavery to the kings and queens in Africa.”
Born into slavery in Virginia around 1813, Alexander later was enslaved by a Confederate sympathizer in Missouri. Nevertheless, during the Civil War in 1863, he decided to walk five miles at night to inform Union troops of a Confederate trap. After being “accused of feeding information to the enemy, ” Alexander escaped slavery and later organized his wife and children’s escape to freedom. Today, in Lincoln Park, there’s a sculpture of Alexander displayed in the Emancipation Memorial statue.
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“The beautiful thing about Ali is that he acted all along as if he were royalty, that he had a claim to greatness,” said Jonathan Eig, the author of “Ali: A Life.”
“Ali spent much of his life attacking racist ideas,” Eig said. “If he had known that his great-great-great grandfather was such a brave and intelligent man, it surely would have strengthened his argument.”
Eig confirmed the finding to the “best of his ability,” and included them in the paperback edition of Ali’s biography.
“I never knew much about my ancestors until now,” Ali said in a 1980 New York Times interview. “When I’m gone I want my grandchildren and great-grandchildren to give me credit for what I did — and in the same way, I’m happy to know about my ancestors so I can give them credit.”
He continued to say: “Someday I’d like to dig up everything that can be found about all the people I’m descended from.”
It’s safe to say, these new findings would have made Ali even more proud of his family history. Long live “The Greatest” and his family legacy.