Finding Your Roots

Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

PBS Passport gets you access (for a minimum of $5/month PBS Milwaukee membership) to shows already aired on PBS Milwaukee. Available now is the March 25, 2012 episode of of Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s FINDING YOUR ROOTS, with amazing revelations about the ancestors and family trees of Rep. John Lewis, and Sen. Cory Booker.

The revelation that brought John Lewis to tears eight years ago was a copy of the Alabama voter registration rolls of 1867 that included the name Tobias Carter, Lewis’s great-great grandfather. Carter had been a slave until ratification of the 13th Amendment in 1865 freed Tobias and Elizabeth Carter to marry, and two years later allowed Tobias to register to vote.

But the initial protection of freed slave rights didn’t last long in the South. Lewis said he didn’t remember his parents or grandparents ever being allowed to vote in rural Alabama. Protests against Black voter suppression were often met with violence, that John Lewis personally experienced as a young man and that helped pass the 1965 Voting Rights Act. “I guess it’s in my DNA,” Lewis said about the revelation that his ancestor also valued the right to vote, “it’s in my bloodline.”

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is an historian and filmmaker, and director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard. He has hosted the series FINDING YOUR ROOTS for six seasons. In this episode, he said, “Sometimes we find out that the spirit of our ancestors has guided us in ways we could never have imagined.”

The program also revealed parts of Cory Booker’s family tree that his family had never known, and introduced him to two white cousins he’d never met. When Gates asked one of the white cousins if he was surprised to find out he had a Black cousin, the elderly white man said, “No, I’ve always heard that wise men say we’re all the same under the skin.”

In the program, Gates also articulated his personal passion to help others “find the threads that tie us to the people whose ancestry we share, whatever their color, whenever they lived…While our ancestors came to this country on different ships, we’re all in the same boat now.”

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