Skip to comments.Finding Your Roots
Posted on 05/08/2012 5:05:41 AM PDT by Kaslin
"Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates Jr." is another of the Harvard professor's wonderful television series for PBS. This is "must-see TV" and a more than worthy sequel to three previous projects Gates has hosted about how some of us came to be what and who we are.
In this latest 10-part series, Gates explores the genealogical and genetic history of a diverse group of people, from entertainer Harry Connick Jr. and Pastor Rick Warren to former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Brown University President Ruth Simmons. There are less famous people, but the famous get you hooked for the rest.
As I wrote about the earlier series, "African American Lives," which traced the African and slave roots of celebrities, including Oprah Winfrey and Chris Rock, Gates eviscerates any excuse for racism when he explores the lineage of the African Americans he interviews. That's because the whitest and blackest among us are actually a mix of genes formed out of a racial melting pot that includes ancestors who were both black and white.
It would be easy for Gates, whose political sympathies align with the Democratic left, to make these programs a partisan rant against historical and cultural injustice and the Republican Party. He avoids that temptation, letting the facts he and his team unearth speak for themselves.
Gates has become a modern-day Ralph Edwards. Edwards hosted a TV show in the '50s called "This is Your Life." On the show, childhood friends and long-lost relatives would surprise a famous guest and regale the audience with funny and heart-warming stories from the celebrity's past.
On Gates' program, those relatives are long dead. They are ghosts who have faded through generations of family history, leaving only stories handed down by word of mouth.
One of the most poignant moments in the current series is when Condoleezza Rice learns about her great-grandmother, Julia Head. Through stories told by her family, Rice learned that Head was the child of a slave and a white slave owner. After a search of courthouse records in Greene County, Ala., Gates discovers documents that reveal Julia Head was just four years old when she was sold for $450.
Shown the record of the sale, Rice soberly responds, "My great-grandmother was worth $450 to Mr. Head. Yeah, dehumanization. Just property."
Conservatives should love this series because it shows that despite incredible odds that argued against success, the subjects Gates profiles overcame overwhelming obstacles to achieve something significant. Long before the birth of our entitlement generation, we held these kinds of role models up to young people. The message was, "If they could overcome, so can you." That's what Rice's parents believed. On "Finding Your Roots," Rice said her parents told her that even though she might not have been able to drink a soda at the local Woolworths segregated lunch counter in 1963, she could be president of the United States if she wished.
She came close.
In an age when we change homes and jobs many times during our lifetimes and families are broken up because of divorce and other factors, finding one's roots is an important component to filling in ones family tree.
Who am I? Why am I here? Where am I headed? These are all fundamental questions to which every human being, regardless of race, gender or background, wants answers. Professor Gates provides these answers to the people he profiles, but his programs also encourage viewers to explore their own family histories so they can know more about themselves.
If you missed "Finding Your Roots" or any of Gates' other series, check your local PBS listings for rebroadcast dates or buy the DVD at www.pbs.org/wnet/finding-your-roots. Your purchase will be worth the investment. This is some of the best television you'll ever see. It is also something rare for television today: a program that helps you truly appreciate the value of your own life.
It’s a good show. Gates himself found out that his family had a honkie in the woodpile. Here in the South, we’re all related :)
By all means, Perfesser Gates, let’s divide each other up into little sub-groups so that Ubama can play us against each other.
Maybe your family, Cal -- not mine. Not unless you go back more than 13 generations, and then I have no knowledge.
I’ve never met anyone who could absolutely vouch for his great, great grandmother’s virtue. None of us can be sure. Ever.
Excellent point. I am greatly amused by those who with great accuracy trace their ancestry back 15 generations. As if none of the ladies involved ever had an overly close friendship with a neighbor.
I’ve seen the show. Just a clever way to get you to listen to the same old grievances.
A (unfortunately too small) control sample we do have access to are the various royal families. The infidelity rampant in those groups shows that plotting the official genealogy is a waste of time if one is concerned with actual lineage.
As I said earlier, I’m more concerned with my descendants than with my ancestors.
Just watched an episode of The Tudors on Netflix. It’s history porn and wildly inaccurate historically, but generally entertaining.
What struck me was that Henry’s fifth wife, Katharine Howard, apparently had no trouble finding paramours among the courtiers or in getting her ladies to cover for her. According to the show, some of these ladies actually encouraged her to commit adultery.
Given Henry’s demonstrated intolerance for this type of behavior in a wife, I find it amazing that guys were still willing to step up into the target zone for probable hanging, drawing and quartering. One would think self-preservation would have made it difficult for Kate to find partners. But apparently not. (Personally, had the Queen come on to me, I’d have moved to Russia.)
The general idea among the royalty of the time was that while the King openly played around (Royal motto: It is good to be the King!), the Queen did not. Otherwise that whole royal blood mystique thing was obviously in danger.
It seems unlikely this worked out in practice. Henry was probably not the only King whose wives played around, but he was probably one of the few willing to admit it openly and accept the loss of face being a cuckold entailed at the time.
Example: Edward II was an unusual person to be the biological son of Edward I and the biological father of Edward III.
Which makes it likely quite a few of the royal children of the time were not the biological children of the King. Which was all to the good, genetically speaking. It is notable that European monarchs of the Middle Ages and early modern times maintained a remarkably high general level of competence. The royal stock deteriorated drastically in the 18th and later centuries, possibly as a result of increased inbreeding associated (ironically) with a generally higher level of morality.
Well, if you saw the segment with Samuel L. Jackson, you saw the seething resentment that man harbors. I’m glad to see that his ancestors’ experiences in the New World were beneficial for him. No telling how his distant cousins who were left behind in Africa made out. The ones that were not eaten by cannibals are now toting drinking water in mysterious blue plastic containers up to a couple of miles every day on the “failed” continent. Even Henry Louis Gates seems to get a certain look on his face when he is able to show the less-militant subjects how their ancestors had to negotiate the trials and tribulations of migration to the greatest nation in the history of mankind. It’s as if he is saying “We may be great now, but whitey’s ancestors were cruel”.