New family research shows that legendary boxer and activist Muhammad Ali was related to heroic slave Archer Alexander, The Washington Postreports.
According to the family, Ali is the great-great-great grandson of Alexander, who aided the Union side during the Civil War and escaped to freedom. Alexander is featured on the Emancipation Memorial, which is a statue in Washington D.C that displays Abraham Lincoln.
According to Washington University in St. Louis, Alexander snuck away to tell Union soldiers that Confederate sympathizers were planning to sabotage a bridge that the soldiers intended to cross. Alexander reportedly fled St. Charles, Miss. to St. Louis and came into contact with William Greenleaf Eliot Jr. — T.S. Eliot's grandfather and the first president of Washington University. Eliot got an order of protection for Alexander and while slave catchers came after Alexander, Eliot was able to use the order to free him. Eliot also wrote a book on Alexander.
The Ali-Alexander connection was made by Ali's third cousin, Keith Winstead, when he was doing research on the site 23andMe, according to the Post. The discovery is supported by DNA evidence as Ali and his wife, Lonnie, took part in a study with the site to raise awareness for Parkinson's Disease. Ali battled Parkinson's for 32 years before his death in June 2016.
"He would have loved knowing he was connected to someone like that," Ali's daughter, Maryum, said, according to the Post. "He was ahead of people in understanding that there was a connection that went back through slavery to the kings and queens in Africa."
Jonathan Eig, author of "Ali: A Life", will include the update on Ali's heritage in an upcoming paperback edition of the biography.