Friday, October 17, 2014

Finding Your Roots Review: Roots of Freedom (S2E4)

This week's episode featured guests Ben Affleck, Khandi Alexander, and Benjamin Jealous. All three guests had ancestors in the American Revolution. Hey, I have ancestors who served in the American Revolution. And my niece, Sofie, has patriots on both sides of her family tree. I suspect this is not as unusual as most Americans think.

The message that was really underscored in this episode is that the American Revolution which was fought for independence from Great Britain on the basis that all men were created equal did not create a country that treated all men equally. Once independent, the infant nation of the United States continued to uphold the institution of slavery for nearly another century.

Actor Ben Affleck learned that his sixth great-grandfather served in the Revolution during the summer of 1776 when he was just 18 years old. Actor/dancer Khandi Alexander, knew nothing of her family history. She learned that her second great-grandfather was a slave who was fathered by the white slave-owner. It was through that man that Khandi is descended from a patriot soldier. That patriot owned 85 slaves who worked his large Southern plantation. Some patriot, right? But the truth is that most of our founding fathers owned slaves.

Khandi spoke a bit about identifying herself as "black" as opposed to "African-American." She said she didn't feel connected to Africa. Her DNA test showed that she was 74% African and was able to point to the specific regions in African from which her slave ancestors originated. These results obviously moved her to the point of stating that she guessed she was African-American after all.

 I didn't know of Benjamin Jealous until this program. He is a civil rights activist and former president of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People). Jealous is biracial; his mother is black and his father is white. His black lineage showed that he is descended from an man named Peter G. Morgan who was born a slave but in his lifetime worked and earned money enough to purchase his own freedom right before the Civil War. Once freed, he purchased the ownership of his wife and daughters. Then he freed them as well with a beautifully written, very moving, manumission statement written in 1864.

I loved that the document brought Jealous to tears. And loved that Jealous expressed his love for the document.

Additionally, the research revealed that Jealous had 8 ancestors who served in the Revolution including a man who served as a fife player at the battles of Lexington and Concord. That man lived to be 100 years old and the researchers were able to find a photograph of him; not the most attractive photo but still a very impressive find.

He identified himself as African-American yet his DNA test revealed that he is 80% European and only 18% African which Gates commented on to the effect of Jealous was the whitest leader of the NAACP. Sometimes I feel Gates comments too much on race, really. We're only of one race, Dr. Gates; human. And personally, I think it's much more important who we identify with as individuals than what DNA says we are or are not.

All in all I really enjoyed this episode and I really loved how the guests were moved by the stories Gates revealed to them. You can what this episode online at  

Next Tuesday's episode will explore the ancestry of three celebrity chefs; Tom Colicchio, Aaron Sanchez and Ming Tsai.

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