Late legendary boxer Muhammad Ali was someone who used his platform in the realm of sports to bring attention to social and political issues that impacted the Black community. Giving a voice to the voiceless and speaking out against injustice was in the boxer’s DNA. According to the Washington Post, new genetic research shows that one of Ali’s ancestors was a slave who fearlessly fought for freedom.
Ali is the descendant of Archer Alexander, the news outlet writes. Alexander, who according to DNA evidence was Ali’s great-great-great grandfather, escaped from slavery and was instrumental in secretively providing the Union Army with information during the Civil War era. While enslaved in Missouri, he was owned by an individual who believed in Confederacy. Alexander risked his life sharing news about the Confederate troops’ whereabouts and plans with Union soldiers, ultimately saving several lives. After it was discovered that he was providing information to the Union Army, he made his escape and went to St. Louis where he worked for Washington University’s co-founder William Greenleaf Eliot who protected him from slave catchers.
Alexander’s heroic efforts are symbolized by a statue dubbed the Emancipation Memorial in Washington, D.C.’s Lincoln Park. Keith Winstead, Ali’s cousin, was the one who discovered the genealogical connection. “The beautiful thing about Ali is that he acted all along as if he were royalty, that he had a claim to greatness,” author of Ali: A Life Jonathan Eig told the news outlet. “Ali spent much of his life attacking racist ideas. If he had known that his great-great-great grandfather was such a brave and intelligent man, it surely would have strengthened his argument.” His daughter Maryum Ali says that he would have been proud to know that Alexander was one of his ancestors.
Although Ali passed away two years ago, his family continues to carry on his legacy by speaking out against injustice. His ex-wife Khalilah Ali recently addressed Donald Trump after he made comments about posthumously pardoning Ali.