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Sunday, November 2, 2014

Finding Your Roots! Episode #4 Social Activists

Episode 4 - Lives Shaped by the Revolutionary War and the Civil War

Photo from the Finding Your Roots Website

Ben Affleck, the accomplish actor and director, gets his social activism from his parents, especially is mom, in fact, Ben's mother was committed to working in Mississippi during the Freedom Summer in 1964. But Ben had another activist in his family tree, his 3rd great-grandfather: Almond Bruce French. Almond Bruce was a lawyer in Ohio who believed he could speak to the dead, in fact, he went around comforting widows after the civil war by using his skills to communicate with their departed loved ones.  Dr. Gates' staff was able to research Ben's paternal line back to 1604 and another amazing discovery was a surprised 10th cousin, Ben's longtime pal, Matt Damon. Dr. Gates surprised Ben by introducing him to another ancestor named Jesse Stanley who fought in the American Revolution by fighting for the Patriot side. This made the proud New England Patriot fan beam.

Khandi Alexander, dancer and acclaimed actress.

To escape the racism in Florida, Khandi parents moved to New York and sadly, her parents did not talk about life in Florida. One possible reason for their silence was that Khandi's maternal grandfather was murdered at the young age of 25, in fact, she had never seen a picture of her maternal grandfather Joshua Masters.  

I've never seen a picture of my paternal grandfather and I've always been told that my dad looked just like his father. Ironically, I look like my dad, so I can't help but wondered if I look like my grandfather, Sylvester Powell.

After his death, Khandi's grandmother left Florida to distance her children from the Masters side of the family. Khandi's family was silent like they were ashamed when it was the murders who should had been ashamed. Dr. Gates stated that her family focused on the future instead of the past and that can led a person or persons to have no clue about their family's success and failures. We all need to know our successes and failures so we can learn how not to repeat them. I always wondered about my relatives who left North Carolina and their families, especially, my maternal great-great-grandmother, Mary Vick who left her family including her toddler daughter. I wonder if Mary witnessed or was affected by a tragedy that caused her to leave and never return again?

Dr. Gates presented two pictures of Khandi's slave ancestors and he said that it was a miracle that they were able to find an actual photo of former slave ancestor.  This is not always true because I have pictures of two of my slave ancestors (Jack Sherrod and Easter Exum Vick) and there are other researchers who have pictures of their slave ancestors. Khandi said that because her ancestors were slaves she believes "that no matter what they do to me I can get up and keep going because if they did it; I can to."

Ben Jealous is the former President of the NAACP and a social activists since college.  

Peter G. Morgan was Ben Jealous' 3rd great-grandfather who was a former slave who Ben grew up revering because he fought for former slave rights. Peter G. is also the ancestor that Ben would had like to had met because Ben said that Peter was "born with a fire to be free." Peter G. Morgan was manumitted aka freed in 1857 at 45 years old. Peter purchased his owned freedom by using his trade; his was a shoemaker. We don't know how much his freedom cost but whatever a 45 year old slave with shoemaker skills cost; Peter worked and saved enough money to buy his freedom. That had to be a lot of shoes; even Imelda Marcos would had been jealous! Ironically in 1860, Peter owned 4 slaves; his wife and his 3 daughters but by 1864, Peter freed his family. Jealous became very emotional when reading the slave schedule; he probably was placing himself in his ancestors shoes and thinking that he would had done the same for his family. I recall the time when I first got emotional when I discover my slave ancestor. It was when I found John Pate and his family on the 1870 census, I said to myself, "I found you Kunta Kinte." I had been searching the wrong county so when I found the family I was overjoyed.

Ben's father is white and his mother is black and Ben's DNA results was 80.9% white. Gates asked Ben if he ever tried to pass for white. He said no.  Because Ben's mother was black his white side disconnected from his father, so Ben didn't know anything about his paternal ancestors. He soon discovered that he had 8 ancestors who served in the Revolutionary war. Dr, Gates stated that the Revolutionary war was a noble fight for freedom but not freedom for all. Many of these patriots owned slaves because these patriots did not see their slaves as equal.

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