The world lost Muhammad Ali in June 2016, but he certainly lives on through his legacy. Now, his lineage and history has just gotten richer: thanks to DNA analysis, the professional boxer and activist has been linked to a heroic slave.

As Savannah Now reports, Ali had an interest in his unknown ancestors, and was once featured in a New York Times 1980 story chronicling his maternal lineage. In that story, he said, “Someday I’d like to dig up everything that can be found about all the people I’m descended from.” 

Thanks to members of his family, one more ancestor has been revealed, and a very important one at that. 

According to the Washington Post, DNA evidence shows Ali was the great-great-great grandson of Archer Alexander, who became a hero when he escaped from slavery and warned Union troops of a Confederate trap. The link comes from Ali's father Cassius Clay, Sr., whose mother was Alexander's great-granddaughter. 

Born into slavery in Virginia in 1813, Alexander made a daring escape, and later helped his wife and children escape, as well. Alexander's likeness is displayed in the Emancipation Memorial statue near the U.S. Capitol.

The link was discovered when Ali's third cousin, Keith Winstead, used an at-home DNA kit. According to the New York Post, Winstead is a retired genealogist

“The beautiful thing about Ali is that he acted all along as if he were royalty, that he had a claim to greatness,” said Jonathan Eig, author of Ali: A Life, a biography chronicling the life of the heavyweight champ. 

“He would have loved knowing he was connected to someone like that,” said Ali's daughter, Maryum. “He was ahead of people in understanding that there was a connection that went back through slavery to the kings and queens in Africa.”

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