Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Finding Your Roots: Our People, Our Tradition (S2E7)

Oh education. How you get in the way of my blogging.

The last episode of this season has already aired. I'm 4 episodes behind in my reviews. Not good, not good.

I'm not home Tuesday nights when this program aired on PBS so I typically watched them Wednesday nights online after I get home from school. That is when I start writing my reviews but eh, I haven't had time to proofread and flesh these most recent posts until now. 

Episode 7: Our People, Our Traditions, originally aired on Tuesday, November 4, 2014. It features musician Carole King, attorney Alan Dershowitz, and writer Tony Kushner and explores their Jewish ancestry. All three had ancestors who fled Eastern Europe to find sanctuary in America. Their ancestors showed incredible perseverance in the face of religious persecution.

Carole King was born Carol Joan Kline in Brooklyn, New York. She changed her name as a teenager. Not only was typical of Jewish performers to change their names at that time but Carole expressed that then there was something she just didn't like about herself. It was revealed that Carole's grandmother, whom she only knew as Sarah Besmogin, also changed her name. In December of 1911 Sarah fled the anti-Semitic Pogroms of Russia for New York. She arrived at Ellis Island as Sheina Besmosgin and from then on rarely spoke of her life back in Russia.

Tony Kushner, best known for his Pulitzer prize winning play, Angels in America, grew up in Louisiana. Many people are shocked to realize that there is a historic Jewish presence anywhere in the South but Tony said the Jewish community eh grew up in in Lake Charles, LA was very proud to express their culture but not devoid of anti-semantic experiences. He also expressed that antisemitism prepared him to face the homophobia he would endure coming out as a gay man while as a student at Columbia University in New York City. In fact, he goes on to say that it was his parents that taught him to not be ashamed of who he was and he used that lesson to inform them of his homosexuality.

Alan Dershowitz, a high-profile attorney also does pro-bono work for those in need of legal assistance. This is a value he learned from his Orthodox Jewish father; that it is a "Jew's job to defend the underdog." He credits the historic persecution of the Jews and the atrocities of the Holocaust as the force behind his commitment to protect and defend the individual's right to practice their faith.

Typically each episode concludes with looking at the guests DNA results. Interestingly, this episode did not.

The ancestors of these guests presented experiences that were typical of many Jewish immigrant experiences. Their ancestors experienced prejudice and discrimination due to their Jewish faith and those struggles against intolerance led them to America. To give the impression that religious freedom in America is without discrimination though, is false. 

As we sit down to Thanksgiving dinner this week let us remember that we live in a country where religious freedom is one of our founding principles. Cultivate tolerance of differences. Allow others to worship, or not, as they see fit. Happy Thanksgiving!

Watch this episode at :

Monday, November 17, 2014

Finding Your Roots: We Come From People (S2E6)

Ugh. Mid-term. It's that time of semester when my whole life becomes about homework. This semester it really isn't that bad. The course I am taking is really well designed and not as overwhelming as last semester BUT, I still don't have time to watch all that much TV and I certainly don't have time to write about it. I am very behind on reviewing this episode which initially aired on October 28, 2014

Episode 6: We Come From People featuring musician NAS, actor Angela Bassett, and presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett.

This episode traces the very prominent African-American guests’ ancestry into the institution of slavery in the U.S. Like most African-Americans, the guest knew very little about their ancestors of the 1800s. Tracing an African-American family back into slavery is often impossible so these guests' finds are pretty incredible. 

NAS, is a hip-hop artist born and raised in Brooklyn, NY but his roots are very southern. The researchers discovered that on his mother's line there were generations who married individuals with the same last name.

I don't want any comments about southern inbreeding, this happened among my very northern ancestors too. In small communities there aren't a lot of mates to choose from. In NAS's case, though, he has five generations of Littles marrying Littles from the same community.

One census record showed his black grandmother, Fannie Little-Little, living right next door to a white Fannie Little. As it turns out, the black Littles derived their last name from the white slave owners. Not all that unusual really; however, it does mean that not all those black Littles were biologically related. They had lost their names in slavery and took their slave owners name as their own last name. That is the irony of African-American genealogy; that we have to use the records and names of the white owners to learn about slave ancestors

Angela Bassett fully expected to find slaves in her lineage but expressed that it was overwhelming to imagine what it must have been to go through what they experienced.

Again, her ancestors white neighbor's name helped to unlock the family history. The neighbor, Elizabeth Ingram, was the daughter-in-law of the man who owned Angela's great-great grandparents. Their child, her great grandfather, was separated from his parents by sale to the white Bassett family. The researchers brought her face to face with the white slave-owning Bassetts. Quite a breathtaking moment. 

Valerie Jarrett, the senior adviser to President Barack Obama, has a history of high achieving African-Americans. Her great grandfather, Robert Robinson Taylor, was the first black person to graduate from MIT and was the first professionally trained black American architect. Another of her ancestors was Victor Rochon, a pre-Civil War free man of color was also an elected state representative in Louisianan who railed against the notion of separate but was interesting to see how she had lines of both free and enslaved African-Americans.

These lineages showed that finding the records of a slave ancestor can be bittersweet but the relationships between white slave owners and black slaves is often much more complex than one would expect. The episode underscored the fact that it is difficult if not impossible to extricate whites from the research of African-American genealogy.