oxing 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.
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.”
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