At the time Cassius Clay joined the Nation of Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Ali, the famous boxer didn’t know much, if anything, about his ancestors or his own family tree. At the time he declared: “Why should I keep my white slave master’s name visible and my black ancestors invisible, unknown, unhonored?”. Decades later and thanks to DNA testing, Ali’s family has made a discovery that appears to shed new light on the boxer’s lineage. According to his family’s research, Ali is the great-great-great grandson of Archer Alexander, a renowned slave who heroically fought both for his own freedom and against slavery.
During the Civil War, Alexander escaped from bondage and secretly fed information to the Union Army, potentially saving hundreds of lives. He also passed along details of hidden arms. He was later the model for the slave depicted in the Emancipation Memorial, a statue in Lincoln Park.
The family discovery was made by Ali’s third cousin, Keith Winstead, an amateur genealogist. Winstead discovered the connection with Alexander while conducting ancestry research and the finding is supported by DNA tests. Ali and his wife Lonnie had provided DNA samples when they had participated in a study to raise awareness of Parkinson’s disease, from which Ali suffered. According to Winstead, Ali’s father, Cassius Clay Sr., was the son of Edith Greathouse, who was Alexander’s great-granddaughter.
Commenting on the new discovery, Ali’s daughter, Maryum, said that her father would have been proud to call Alexander family. “He would have loved knowing he was connected to someone like that”, she 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.”
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