Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Mixing The Races

By now, even the dogs in the street know that President Barack Obama can trace his ancestry back to Ireland.

He's been quite open about his multi-racial background, although he leans towards the Kenyan side and never seems to offer photo opportunities with his mother's relations.

The people in Ennis, County Clare, on the other hand, are aware that Muhammad Ali didn't much care to talk about his own Irish heritage.

Never heard of it before?

The greatest boxer who ever lived is planning a visit to his ancestral stomping grounds in Ennis, where his Irish great-grandfather once resided.

Abe Grady took his name from Abraham Lincoln, they say, to honor the Great Emancipator. In the 1860's, Mr. Grady left Ireland for the opportunity available in America, where Catholics weren't tithed to fund the Church of Ireland. Where he could own land, live free and escape the prejudices that were visited on Catholics by their British masters.

He married an emancipated slave in Kentucky, and his son would later marry a black woman. Their daughter was Muhammad Ali's mother.

When Muhammad Ali joined the Nation of Islam, he liked to insist that his white blood was the result of rape, an evil of slavery. The truth is quite different, and perhaps it took a bi-racial President to make racial mixing by choice an acceptable concept.

Abe Grady loved a woman who happened to be black. His great-grandson will soon meet his fair-skinned, distant cousins. There's a flurry of activity at the Clare Heritage Center, as the local Gradys trace genealogy records to make the connections. It's said that all the Gradys from the Turnpike in Ennis are related and therefore linked by blood to Muhammad Ali.

Like his wife, Abe Grady knew inequality. He lived with discrimination based on his religion. No surprise that they would find common ground on which to start a new life as husband and wife. No need for Muhammad Ali to be ashamed of his roots.

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