Sunday, June 05, 2016

Beyond FACTS: Muhammad Ali’s Mixed-Race Family

Boxing legend Muhammad Ali was known for a lot of things—his world titles, his dynamic personality, his fast-talking poetic jabs, his long fight with Parkinson’s disease. And while most know about his once outspoken support of Black Nationalism, his refusal to be drafted to fight in Vietnam, his multiple marriages and many children (two sons and seven daughters), few seemed to pay much attention when the older, subdued Muhammad Ali traveled to Ireland in September 2009 to visit the reputed hometown of his white great-grandfather.
Ali learned about his great-grandfather Abe Grady in 2002, when genealogists reported that in the 1860s Grady had lived in Kentucky, married a freed slave, and raised a mixed-race family that eventually resulted in the birth of a granddaughter named Odessa Lee Grady…Ali’s mother.
While some in Ennis insist Abe Grady never actually lived in the town, it’s generally accepted he did hail from the Irish county that includes Ennis. Regardless of the details, during his 2009 trip Mohammad Ali embraced his Irish heritage while the people of Ennis embraced him as one of their own.
And during the same trip another Irishman, Michael Joyce of Chicago—a lawyer known during his own boxing days as “Irish Mike Joyce”—proposed to Mohammad Ali’s daughter, Jamillah, in the nearby town of Ballina.
Joyce, whose grandmother hails from Ireland, had planned the surprise proposal and arranged for a custom ring to be made for the occasion by an Irish jeweler. The couple married in May 2010.
Jamillah, one of Ali’s identical twin daughters, at the time worked in the Secretary of State’s office in Chicago and had two daughters, a young teen named Nadia and a preteen named Amira. She and Joyce have known each other for a while; Joyce, a long-time promoter of young boxers, owns and operates The Celtic Boxing Club, an organization in which Muhammad Ali is also involved.
Seems boxing, a touch of the Irish, and a willingness to cross racial boundaries for the sake of love runs in the Ali family—despite the late patriarch’s once very blunt—and, most would argue, accurate—portrayals of the evils of white power, or his eventual suggestion that whites and blacks would be best off separate but equal, living “together without infringing on each other.” Cultivated and promoted during the upheavals of the late 1960s an early 1970s, such points of view were apparently reconsidered by Ali through the years until they were dismissed entirely, it seems. Other members of the Ali clan who claim a mixed-race heritage include beloved grandsons Biaggio Ali Walsh and his younger brother, Nico, whose mother is Rasheda Ali-Walsh.
As Muhammad Ali himself put it in his 2004 book, Soul of a Butterfly, “Some things cannot be taught, but they can be awakened in the heart.”
Photo © Getty Images


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