Odessa Lee Clay (née O'Grady; February 12, 1917 – August 20, 1994) was the mother of three-time world heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali and Rahman Ali, and the paternal grandmother of Laila Ali. She married Cassius Marcellus Clay Sr. in the 1930s and worked for some time as a household domestic to help support her young children. She supported and inspired her son throughout his boxing career and was a ring-side regular at his bouts.
Odessa Grady Clay
Odessa Lee O'Grady
February 12, 1917
Hopkins County, Kentucky, U.S.
|Died||August 20, 1994 (aged 77)|
Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.
(m. 1934; died 1990)
|Children||Muhammad Ali |
Early life edit
She was born in Hopkins County, Kentucky, one of six children of John Lewis O'Grady and Birdie B. Morehead. Her paternal grandfather was a white Irishman named Abe O'Grady, who emigrated to the United States from Ennis, County Clare, soon after the Civil War and married the daughter of freed slaves Lewis and Amanda J. "Mandy" Walker of Todd County, Kentucky. Her maternal grandfather, Tom Morehead (1837-1913), was the son of a white man whose surname was Morehead and a slave woman named Dinah. Morehead served in the 122nd United States Colored Troops during the war.
Clay's parents separated when she was young, and her mother worked as a maid, taking care of the household chores and the young children of a white family. Clay was raised partly by her aunt. When she became an adolescent, she dropped out of school and also found work as a domestic. Then, when she was sixteen years old, she met twenty-year-old Cassius, whom everyone referred to as "Cash". They soon married and settled into their own house in Louisville, Kentucky. The Clays' marriage was troubled. Ali told boxing promoters, "She's afraid of him."
Influence on Muhammad Ali edit
Through her strong Christian belief, Clay had a great influence on the life and spiritual upbringing of both of her sons. Muhammad Ali later said, "My mother is a Baptist, and when I was growing up, she taught me all she knew about God. Every Sunday, she dressed me up, took me and my brother to church, and taught us the way she thought was right. She taught us to love people and treat everybody with kindness. She taught us it was wrong to be prejudiced or hate. I've changed my religion and some of my beliefs since then, but her God is still God; I just call him by a different name. And my mother, I'll tell you what I've told people for a long time. She's a sweet, fat, wonderful woman, who loves to cook, eat, make clothes, and be with family. She doesn't drink, smoke, meddle in other people's business, or bother anyone, and there's no one who's been better to me my whole life."
Clay supported and inspired her son throughout his boxing career. At small gyms early in her son's career and later at international arenas when he became world-famous, Clay traveled with her son and was a ring-side regular at his bouts. Muhammad Ali was much closer to his mother, whom he lovingly called "Bird", "because she's as sweet and pretty as a bird", than to his father. After discovering boxing, it was his mother with whom he shared his dreams of greatness.
Final years edit
Clay's husband died in 1990. Odessa Clay died of heart failure on August 20, 1994, at Hurstbourne Health Center, a nursing home in the Louisville, Kentucky, area. She had been disabled by a stroke since February 1994. Her body was buried in a grave alongside her husband in Green Meadows Memorial Cemetery, in Louisville.
Odessa Clay appeared as herself in the film documentaries Muhammad Ali: The Whole Story (1996) and When We Were Kings (1996). In the 1977 film The Greatest, Odessa Clay was portrayed by Dorothy Meyer, and in the 2001 film Ali she was portrayed by Candy Ann Brown.
- "The Dream". Time magazine. March 22, 1963. Archived from the original on March 14, 2008. Retrieved 2009-09-04.
Odessa Grady Clay is a short, pillowy woman who has 12 cats with freckled fawn skin and an expensive orthodontist. ...
- "Young Cassius Clay". Sports Illustrated. January 13, 1992. Retrieved 2009-09-04.
Clay was his mother's son. Odessa Grady Clay was a sweet, pillowy, light-skinned black woman with a freckled face, a gentle demeanor and an easy laugh. ...
- Egerton, John (September 28, 1980). "Ali's Kentucky Roots". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-09-04.
There, Odessa eventually met and married Cassius Marcellus Clay Sr. Little is known about the Grady side of the family, except that a cousin of Muhammad Ali ...
- Dokosi, Michael Eli. "The special bond shared by Muhammad Ali and mum Odessa Clay". Retrieved 27 June 2020.
- "Muhammad Ali's warm Irish welcome". BBC. September 1, 2009. Retrieved 2009-09-02.
Ali's ancestor, Abe Grady, lived on the Turnpike Road in the town, before moving in the 1860s to the US, where he married an African-American freed slave.
- "Muhammad Ali the Irishman given hero's welcome in Ennis, County Clare", The Times, September 2, 2009
- "Irish Cultural Society of San Antonio". Irishculturalsociety.com. Retrieved 2016-07-02.
- "Growing Up Scared in Louisville". Sports Illustrated. April 18, 1966. Retrieved 2009-09-04.
More than once Odessa Clay had her husband brought into court for roughing her up. Cassius Sr. was also picked up for reckless driving, disorderly conduct, assault and battery, always after he had been drinking. As another old friend put it, "The father isn't a criminal or even an evil man. He's just a frustrated little guy who can't drink. He never served any time and he never will.
- "Thomas Morehead (1836-1913) - Find A Grave..." www.findagrave.com.
- Hauser, p. 18
- "Chapter Excerpt: Muhammad Ali by Matt Christopher". Archived from the original on September 27, 2007. Retrieved July 28, 2007.
- Hauser, Thomas. Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times
- "Ali's Mother Is Dead at 77". Associated Press in New York Times. August 23, 1994. Retrieved 2009-09-03.
Odessa Lee Grady Clay, mother of the three-time heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali, died Sunday at the Hurstbourne Health Center, a nursing home. She was 77 and had been disabled by a stroke since February, according to John Ramsey, a family friend. ...
- "Gregory Allen Howard - Screenwriter - Remember the Titans - Ali". Archived from the original on June 29, 2007. Retrieved July 19, 2007.
- "Odessa Lee Grady Clay, 77, mother of boxing legend Muhammad Ali, dies". Johnson Publishing. September 12, 1994. Retrieved 2009-09-04.
Odessa Lee Grady Clay, 77, mother of three-time heavyweight champ Muhammad Ali, died recently of heart failure at a nursing home in the Louisville, KY, area. Mrs. Clay had been disabled by a stroke since February, according to family friend John Ramsey.
- Entry for Odessa Clay's grave, in Findagrave website (2019). https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/81894995/odessa-lee-clay
- "Odessa Clay". The Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2009-09-04.
- "Ali (2001)". The Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2009-09-04.