The Irish Claim Muhammad Ali
Every African American knows that somewhere in their family tree, a white European or American resides. However, not all of them were rapists and not all of them were males, either. Some families do not want to acknowledge us, while others will even cross the oceans to connect with us.
In Kentucky, Abe Grady married an African-American woman and they had a son called John Grady — Ali’s grandfather. His daughter Odessa Lee Grady was Ali’s mother.
Ali was originally Cassius Marcellus Clay Junior but changed his name to Muhammad Ali after joining the Nation of Islam in 1964.
Muhammad Ali was honored yesterday with a scroll of freedom proclaiming him as the first freeman of a west of Ireland town from where his great-grandfather Grady emigrated to the United States. The three-time heavyweight champion is now 67 and fighting Parkinson’s disease. The length of his tour of Ireland for charitable causes is depending largely on his health.
Yet Ali was fêted at a civic reception in the small town, which has been decorated with bunting and US flags. His wife, Lonnie, described the reception Ali received as the most exciting of his life. Ten thousand people were said to have turned out to greet and celebrate Ali, along with members of the Grady family who are said to be his fourth cousins.
His wife thanked Ennis Town Council and Mayor Frankie Neylon and on behalf of her husband declared, “Now that we know that Muhammad is an Ennis man, we will be back”.
Later, in an interview on RTÉ, she said: “I have never seen anything like this before and neither has he. He was overwhelmed by it, really ecstatic. It was better than any medicine you could give him. He was excited and surprised by the outpouring of people, even the children who were out in the street. It was wonderful.”
Later, Ali, accompanied by his wife, acknowledged the unveiling of a plaque which was placed at a monument that commemorated both Ali’s visit and where his great-grandfather Abe Grady once lived on the Turnpike Road. Then to the delight of onlookers, he posed for photographs, shadow-boxed, and shook the hand of a former Special Olympics participant.
The “freedom” of Ennis is simply an honorary title, allowing the freeman to graze his sheep on some town greenery. However, for the mayor of Ennis, it means far more than that. Frankie Neylon declared: “He is definitely the most famous son of Ennis.”
Muhammad Ali is no longer a member of the Nation of Islam; he practices Sunni Islam and since 2005, certain forms of Sufism. Therefore, he is more open and less apt to demonize whites as did Malcolm X early in his career. His white forebears, however, showed in Ali’s many rhymes and boasts; they had a gift for the gab and for poetry. And the Irish have always revered–nay, worshiped–pugilists and boxers, men who showed their intelligence and endurance in the ring.
There has also been a recent movement within certain Irish intellectual circles around the historical connections between Irish Americans and African Americans. Many ancestors were deported to the Caribbean as slaves or indentured servants where they intermarried or interraced with blacks. During the potato famine of the mid-1840s, the starving tens of thousands were sent off to America in newly-emptied slave ships. The influx of Irish on American shores caused many native-born Americans to consider them as sub-human, or worse, in newspaper cartoons, as little more than apes or gorillas. Just like blacks.
This is not to say that all Irish will be as welcoming towards African Americans looking for their roots in Ireland. Events like this, however, should keep them trying.