Roots of Freedom

Full Episode

Khandi Alexander and Benjamin Jealous learn their families have long been engaged in the battle for freedom and civil rights, principles passed down through generations of ancestors.

Full episode not available at this time.

This page was edited on 7/7/15.

Episode Credits Print

A Film by Kunhardt McGee Productions
and Inkwell Films
In Association with Ark Media

Executive Producers
Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
Peter W. Kunhardt
Dyllan McGee

Senior Producer
John Maggio

Director/Producer
Jesse Sweet

SERIES PRODUCERS
Sabin Streeter
Leslie Asako Gladsjo

Written by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

EDITOR
R.A. Fedde

CO-PRODUCERS
Nicole Bozorgmir
Hannah Olson

CONTRIBUTING PRODUCERS
Phil Bertelsen
Joshua Gleason
Muriel Soenens

ASSOCIATE PRODUCERS
Brittany Clemons
Jessica Xanthe Cran
Samantha Gowda
Stephen Robinson

RESEARCHERS
Megg Farrell
Joey Fishman

ADDITIONAL RESEARCH
Brigitte Burkett
Barbara Crissman
Jonathan Deiss
Kathleen McClure
Mark Newton
Jenny Orgil
Nick Sheedy
Eddie Killian

GENEALOGICAL RESEARCHER
Johni Cerny

DNA CONSULTANT
CeCe Moore

PRODUCTION COORDINATOR
Elyse Hughes

SUPERVISING PRODUCER
Deborah Clancy Porfido

POST PRODUCTION SUPERVISOR
Stephen Altobello

DIRECTORS OF PHOTOGRAPHY
Stephen McCarthy
Samuel Russell

ADDITIONAL CAMERA
Gregory Brutus
Simon Fanthorpe
Felipe Lazaro
Dillon Schneider
Elizabeth Yarwood

GAFFERS
Trevor Crist
Kevin Hunt
Elan Yaari

GRIPS
Zander Kroon
Chris Varga

LIGHTING AND ELECTRIC
Illumination Dynamics
Liberty Lighting Ltd.

GRAPHIC DESIGN
Andy Cahill
Brian Oakes

ANIMATION
Andy Cahill

ONLINE EDITOR
Chris Connolly

ASSISTANT EDITORS
Julian Cornwell
Todd Goings
Mike Pickett
Edward Wardrip

Original Score by Michael Bacon

SOUND RECORDIST
Caleb Mose

SOUND RE-RECORDING
Richard Fairbanks

SOUND EDITING
Kevin Peters

FOLEY ARTIST
Brian Vancho

FIELD PRODUCTION ASSISTANTS
Jake Breedlove
Farley Crawford
Jerry Hudgens
James Olson

MEDIA MANAGERS
Gregory Brutus
Elizabeth Yarwood

BUSINESS MANAGER
Stef Gordon

IT SUPPORT
Ben Meadors

INTERNS
Anna Blum
Megha Dharia
Sofia Ferrandiz
Cat Harris
Tianyuan He
Pan Hsuan-Yu
Ethel Mendez
Joseph Neighbor
Stephen Rathier
Clare Shin
Daniel Sznajderman
Yongle Wang

ARCHIVES
ABC via Getty Images
Christopher Anne Affleck
Timothy Affleck
Archives & Special Collections at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut Libraries
Associated Press
Linda Boldt
The Bridgeman Art Library
Michelle D. Brooks
Copyright Bettmann / Corbis / AP Images
Corbis Images
Corbis Motion

ARCHIVES
eFootage
Fairfield County Museum
The Family of Khandi Alexander
The Family of Ben Affleck
The Family of Ben Jealous
Getty Images
Luther P. Jackson III
Ann Todd Jealous
Fred Jealous
The Lexington Historical Society, Lexington, MA
Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division
Ann Longmore-Etheridge
Miramax / The Kobal Collection / Art Resource
Museum of the Macabre
National Archives
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
NBCUniversal Archives
The New York Public Library
Nicholas Nixon, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
NY Daily News via Getty Images
Photofest
Ted Polumbaum / Newseum Collection
Sargent Manufacturing Company
The Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University
State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory
Jim Stokes, State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory
Frederick Strother
Touchstone / The Kobal Collection / Frank Masi
UPI Photos / Archie Carpenter
Warner Bros. Pictures / The Kobal Collection / Art Resource
WireImage / Getty Images
WireImage Video / Getty Images
York County Culture and Heritage Museum

LOCATIONS
Burbank Villa, Los Angeles, CA
New England Historic Genealogical Society
Union Theological Seminary at Columbia University

TRANSCRIPTION
CLK Transcription, Inc.

TELEPROMPTER
Kerry Whalen

GENETIC TESTING PROVIDED BY
23andMe
African Ancestry
Family Tree DNA

SPECIAL THANKS
Janet Alcala
Joyce Alden
Dr. David Altshuler
Bennett Ashley
Sharon Avery
Donna K. Baron
Jennifer Bartoli
Ben Benton
Professor Lawrence Bobo
Kasia Bryc
Angie Bush
Dr. Carlos Bustamante
Janine Cloud
Michelle de Geofroy
Dr. Lauren Dickerman
Edriss Elghannaz
Julie Eugley
Ann Gay
John W. Gordon
Amy Gosdanian
Steven Grayson
Bennett Greenspan
Sheila Ford Hamp
Steven K. Hamp
Happy Limo
Morgan Hawthorne
Bernard Hicks
Theresa Houck
Glenn and Debbie Hutchins
Richard and Lynn Jones
Chris Kennedy
Elise Kordis
David Lambert
Sam Lau
Rodney Laughton
Earl Lewis
James Lick
Emily Lisska
Milton Loyer
Paul Lucas
Pelham Lyles
Jill McCullough
Josh McDaniel
Dr. Doug McDonald
Barbara McIntyre
Kerby Miller
Marcyliena Morgan
Chuck Morrison
Joanna Mountain
Monique Nelson
Nu-Image Barbershop
Marc Perry
Caroline Richards
Grace Sayles
Jerry Seagrave
Brian Siberell
Steve Simmons
Janice Stucky
Brenda Stultz
Steven D. Tuttle
Marial Iglesias Utset
George W. Varn
Paul Woodbury

HENRY LOUIS GATES’S WARDROBE
Maurice Sedwell
Bespoke Tailors
Savile Row, London
The Andover Shop
Charles Davidson
Andrew Ramroop

FOR KUNHARDT MCGEE

CO-PRODUCERS
George T. Kunhardt
Teddy Kunhardt

SENIOR RESEARCHER
Jill Cowan

BUSINESS AFFAIRS
Mary Farley

GENERAL COUNSEL
Drew Patrick

PRODUCTION COORDINATOR
William Ventura

PRODUCTION ASSISTANT
Matthew Goldman

FOR THIRTEEN

COORDINATING PRODUCER
Stephanie Carter

PRODUCTION ASSISTANT
Benjamin Phelps

EDITOR
Michael Weingrad

ADDITIONAL AUDIO
Jon Berman
Josh Broome

BUDGET CONTROLLERS
Susan Bartelt
Joy Sims

LEGAL
Odell Nails

PUBLICITY
Lindsey Bernstein
Harry Forbes
Kellie Specter-Castruita
Donna Williams
Sunshine Sachs

FOR WNET

DIRECTOR, PROGRAMMING OPERATIONS
Jane Buckwalter

EXECUTIVE IN CHARGE
Stephen Segaller

EXECUTIVE PRODUCER
Julie Anderson

This program is a production of Kunhardt McGee Productions, Inkwell Films and THIRTEEN Productions LLC in association with Ark Media and WNET which are solely responsible for its content.

© 2014 THIRTEEN Productions LLC, Kunhardt McGee Productions, Inc. and Inkwell Films, Inc. All rights reserved.

Episode Transcript Print

Finding Your Roots
Ep 204 “The Fight For Freedom”
Ben Affleck/ Khandi Alexander/ Ben Jealous

GATES: I’M HENRY LOUIS GATES, JR. WELCOME TO FINDING YOUR ROOTS.

GATES VO: IN THIS EPISODE, WE PIECE TOGETHER THE LOST FAMILY HISTORIES OF ACTOR BEN AFFLECK, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST BEN JEALOUS, AND ACTor KHANDI ALEXANDER.

Their ROOTS LEAD TO ANCESTORS WHOSE LIVES WERE SHAPED BY THE TWO DEFINING WARS IN OUR NATIONS HISTORY. THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION AND THE CIVIL WAR.

TO DISCOVER THEIR FAMILy ORIGINS, WE’VE USED EVERY TOOL AVAILABLE – GENEALOGISTS DOGGEDLY PURSUED THE PAPER TRAIL LEFT BEHIND BY THEIR ANCESTORS, WHILE GENETICISTS employed THE LATEST ADVANCES IN DNA ANALYSIS TO REVEAL SECRETS HUNDREDS OF YEARS OLD.

GATES: This is yours.

Shot of Skip giving Book of Life to Affleck, Alexander and Jealous.

GATES VO: AND WE’VE COMPILED EVERYTHING INTO A BOOK OF LIFE…

AFFLECK: That is amazing.

GATES VO: A RECORD OF ALL OF OUR DISCOVERIES…

JEALOUS: Oh, I’ve never seen that before.

ALEXANDER: Unbelievable.

Skip on Camera:
TAKEN TOGETHER THESE STORIES ABOUT BEN AFFLECK, BEN JEALOUS, AND KHANDI ALEXANDER SHOW US JUST HOW PROFOUNDLY THE DISCOVERY OF OUR LONG-LOST ANCESTORS CAN TRANSFORM OUR UNDERSTANDING OF AMERICAN HISTORY AND OURSELVES.

AFFLECK: I’ve been putting it back together for a number of years…

GATES VO: MY FIRST GUEST IN THIS EPISODE IS BEN AFFLECK.

HE’S THE RARE HOLLYWOOD artist WHO HAS ACHIEVED A-LIST STATUS IN FRONT OF, AND BEHIND, THE CAMERA…

…starring IN BLOCKBUSTERs, but also WRITING AND DIRECTING CRITICALLY ACCLAIMED FILMS…HE’S WON ACADEMY AWARDs for both GOOD WILL HUNTING AND ARGO.

AND–IT TURNS OUT–HE DOES IMPRESSIONS.

AFFLECK: I do Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman, and uh, one day I worked with Morgan, and I said, you know, Morgan, it’s kind of funny, but you know, I sort of do like I do Denzel, and I do you, and uh, and he was like um hmm.

GATES: (laughs)

AFFLECK: Go ahead now. And I said, okay, I’ll do Denzel, and I said (clears throat)…I was like “Doesn’t matter if I’m on this case or not. Doesn’t matter if anyone saw me or not. I’m gonna find out the truth, I guarantee you that.”

GATES: (laughs) That’s Great.

AFFLECK: …and it was like um hmm. And then I said let me try… All the time, I’m asking myself when, when, oh, Lord. It’s time to ante up and kick in like men, like men, and he was like um hmm. You do a good Denzel.

GATES VO: UNDERNEATH BEN’S HUMOR LIES A deeply committed person…

NBC NEWS Clip of Affleck Testifying in front of Congress

AFFLECK: I’m also here today with an urgent message. Our work in DRC is not done.

GATES VO: HE’S AN ACTIVE SUPPORTER OF POLITICAL CAUSES FROM GAY MARRIAGE TO THE ANTI-HUNGER CAMPAIGN, “FEEDING AMERICA”.

BEN TRACES THE ROOTS OF his SOCIAL CONSCIOUSNESS TO HIS MOther–TEACHER AND ACTIVIST CHRISTOPHER ANNE BOLDT.

AFFLECK: I hope I’m a little bit like her. She’s just so…she’s brilliant.
She always told me that, you know, the character of a person is defined by adversity, rather than by like when, you know, everything’s going well.

GATES: Yeah.

AFFLECK: She definitely imbued us with a very strong sense of social justice and social equality and kind of things that I’ve, uh, carried with me, but always using other people as examples, never herself.

GATES: Mhm, mhm. Is there anything in particular that you’ve, um, always wondered about your family tree? Or your ancestry?

AFFLECK: Everybody who grows up in Boston thinks they’re Irish. You know? But I assume there was some…some part of that there. But I really…that’s all I…I kind of know about. It’s, it’s always been a kind of a blank canvas to me. And so I’m very excited to sort of, uh, to fill in the blanks.

JEALOUS (at NAACP Annual Convention): Brothers and sisters I’m proud to report that the state of the NAACP is strong and getting stronger every day.

GATES VO: BEN JEALOUS WAS THE YOUNGEST PERSON EVER APPOINTED PRESIDENT OF THE NAACP, AT AGE 35.

BUT HIS CAREER AS AN ADVOCATE FOR CHANGE BEGAN BACK IN COLLEGE.

WHEN HE WAS A JUNIOR AT COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY, THE ADMINISTRATION ANNOUNCED PLANS TO TEAR DOWN THE BUILDING WHERE MALCOLM X HAD BEEN ASSASSINATED.

BEN LED A campaign of CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE TO SAVE THIS AFRICAN AMERICAN LANDMARK.

COLUMBIA RESPONDED BY SUSPENDING BEN FOR an entire SEMESTER.

JEALOUS: I got a bunch of calls from these baby boomers who were organizers at trade unions and such, saying you’re basically the first people to get kicked out since us. Come work for us, so I went to work in Mississippi where the Governor was seeking to turn a publicly-financed, historically black college into a prison. And we beat him. And I was sort of off to the races.

GATES VO: BEN SAYS THAT HIS DESIRE TO FIGHT FOR CHANGE WAS INSPIRED BY A LEGENDARY FIGURE on HIS FAMILY tree.

HIS THIRD-GREAT-GRANDFATHER, PETER G. MORGAN WAS A FORMER SLAVE WHO HELPED RE-WRITE THE VIRGINIA STATE CONSTITUTION AFTER THE CIVIL WAR.

JEALOUS: Peter G is like our personal Frederick Douglass.

GATES: He’s the patriarch.

JEALOUS: Yeah. My mom was born in the house in Petersburg that he held. He was the one that sort of from whom all things flowed for our family.  And then my grandmother told stories about Peter G Morgan being active in the civil rights movement going back a long time.

GATES VO: THOUGH HE IS A FORMIDABLE PRESENCE IN FAMILY LORE, MANY DETAILS OF Peter’s life remain A mystery to Ben.

JEALOUS: I know that Peter G Morgan escaped slavery, but I don’t know a whole lot about his life before that. Makes me very curious.
If there’s one ancestor that I would like to have met, it’s him.

GATES VO: MY THIRD GUEST, KHANDI ALEXANDER, IS AN ACCOMPLISHED DANCER AND ACTor.

SHE IS widely admired FOR HER UNFLINCHING PORTRAYALS OF strong AFRICAN AMERICAN women–SUCH AS BAR OWNER LADONNA BATISTE IN HBO’S CRITICALLY ACCLAIMED TREME.

UNLIKE BEN AFFLECK AND BEN JEALOUS’s families who CHOSE TO CHALLENGE INSTITUTIONAL RACISM, KHANDI hails FROM A FAMILY WHOSE VERY EXISTENCE IN THE JIM CROW SOUTH PLACED THEM AT THE CENTER OF THE BATTLE FOR civiL RIGHTS.

KHANDI’S PARENTS GREW UP IN A HEAVILY SEGREGATED JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA.

BUT WHEN THEY STARTED A FAMILY, THE ALEXANDERS HEADED TO NEW YORK, hoping TO GIVE KHANDI AND HER SISTER A BETTER CHILDHOOD THAN THEIR OWN.

GATES: What can you tell me about their life back in Jacksonville? They never talked about it?

ALEXANDER: No. They were very much let’s move forward.

GATES: The South wasn’t that particularly hospitable to black people at that time.

ALEXANDER: No. No. And my mother was very dark skinned and my father was extremely light.

GATES: Um-hum.

ALEXANDER: So, I’m sure they had a rough time. You know?

GATES VO: Khandi told me that her identity was shaped by THE vestiges of JIM CROW racism that her parents HAD confronted.

GATES: What does being African-American mean to you?

ALEXANDER: Well, you know, that’s complicated for me because where I grew up and the time I grew up, I identify more with black, you know. I’m a black woman. I like being black.

GATES: Sure. And that was a big deal because we reached in and re-appropriated the word black.

ALEXANDER: That’s right. My father used to tell me that. He said, you know, when he was growing up, calling someone black was the worst thing you could say to them.

GATES: The worst thing. The worst thing.

ALEXANDER: So I truly identified and have always as a black woman. I mean I loved it. I would like to be able to say I’m African-American but I’ve never felt African-American. I felt black.

Skip on Camera:
BEN Jealous, KHANDI Alexander, AND BEN AFFLECK ARE ALL EAGER TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THE LIVES THEIR ancestors LEAD.

AND I WANT TO HELP DISCOVER THE UNTOLD STORIES of those whose sacrifices shape the person that each of my guests has become.

GATES: Well, let’s see what we found on your mom’s side of the family.

GATES VO: WE WANTED TO SEE WHAT MORE WE COULD TELL Ben Affleck ABOUT THE ROOTS OF His family’s interest in social JUSTICE.

we started with his mother, CHRISTOPHER ANNE BOLDT. she WAS BORN IN NEW YORK CITY ON DECEMBER 1st, 1942, TO A FATHER WHO WAS A PACIFIST WRITER AND POLITICAL ACTIVIST and a MOTHER WHO WORKED IN PUBLIC RELATIONS for the museum of modern art.

AFFLECK: That’s my grandmother Liz. She uh… she was quite a lady. She was smart and she went to college which was unusual for a woman in that era and she was a brassy like you know woman who in a time when there was an active sort of push back on women who wanted to do too much. She pushed against that herself and I always admired that.

GATES VO: BEN’S MOM CHRISTOPER WAS A STUDENT AT RADCLIFFE DURING SOME OF THE MOST TURBULENT YEARS IN THE FIGHT FOR CIVIL RIGHTS.

BY 1964, LIKE MANY OTHER COLLEGE STUDENTS SHE HAD BEEN INSPIRED BY THE MARCH ON WASHINGTON AND DR. KING’S VISION OF RACIAL EQUALITY. SO CHRISTOPHER THRUST HERSELF ONTO THE FRONTLINES OF THIS MOVEMENT.

GATES: Now, this is a page from Radcliffe’s freshman register from the year 1964.

AFFLECK: wow…that’s spectacular.

GATES: Your mother was not only a brilliant student, she was also politically engaged, right?

AFFLECK: Mmm-hmm.

GATES: And that year, 1964, was a particularly important one in the history of the civil rights movement. Did you mother ever talk to you about what she did that summer, freedom summer as it’s known?

AFFLECK: Yeah, definitely. You know, she was committed to these principles. She saw what she believed was injustice, and so, she went to Mississippi to try to participate. I think it’s incredibly admirable.

GATES VO: BEN’S MOM JOINED THOUSANDS OF ACTIVISTS WHO HEADED TO MISSISSIPPI TO PROTEST CIVIL RIGHTS ABUSES, REGISTER BLACK VOTERS, AND CHALLENGE THE RACIal STATUS QUO.

FOOTAGE of KKK

GATES VO: WHITE SUPREMACISTS RESPONDED TO “FREEDOM SUMMER” BY WAGING A WAR OF INTIMDATION.

THE KU KLUX KLAN PATROLLED BLACK NEIGHBORHOODS, where they harassed and BEAT the so-called “OUTSIDE AGITATORS”…

but THE MOST SHOCKING–and horrific–atrocity occurred ON THE NIGHT OF JUNE 21ST, 1964.

A LYNCH MOB MADE UP OF MEMBERS OF THE kLAN AND THE LOCAL SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT PULLED OVER THREE OF Ben’s mom’s FELLOW ACTIVISTS: ANDREW GOODMAN, JAMES CHANEY, AND MICHAEL SHWERNER. THEY TORTURED CHANEY–A BLACK MAN, AND THEN SHOT ALL THREE TO DEATH AT CLOSE RANGE.

GATES: This is not some abstract threat. The Klan actually murdered these three Freedom Riders. And your mother was there at that time.

AFFLECK: I think it’s incredible. This is why I have tremendous respect for like battling through, pushing through, dealing with adversity. And that example of a commitment to social justice that my mother set for us has stayed with me.

GATES VO: WE WANTED TO SEE WHAT WE COULD find OUT about BEN’s MORE DISTANT RELATIVES.

OUR search TOOK US ALL THE WAY BACK TO THE CIVIL WAR. WE DISCOVERED AN ANCESTOR WHOM BEN HAD NEVER HEARD OF—BUT WHOSE LIFE WAS PROFOUNDLY ALTERED BY THE carnage THAT SWEPT ACROSS THE NATION.

HE WAS BEN’S third great-grandfather, a man named ALMON BRUCE FRENCH.

GATES: You ever hear these names?

AFFLECK: Almon Bruce French…

GATES: (laughs)

AFFLECK: …is an awesome name. And I wish I knew it before I had a son uh because that would have been his name.

GATES: (laughs)

AFFLECK: Let’s go Almon Bruce.

GATES: (laughs)

AFFLECK: Uh…

GATES VO: As A LAWYER IN OHIO IN THE EARLY 1870’s, Almon took it upon himself to try To ease the suffering of families who had lost loved ones fighting in the civil war.

2% of ALL THE PEOPLE IN THE UNITED STATES had been killed during the war, leaving HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF WIDOWS AND ORPHANS SEARCHing FOR A WAY TO DEAL WITH THEIR LOSSES.

GATES: Seven hundred and fifty thousand Americans died in the Civil War. That’s the equivalent of 7 million Americans dying today in a war, in a four-year period.

AFFLECK: My God.

GATES VO: We UNEARTHED AN ACCOUNT OF HOW Ben’s THIRD gReat Grandfather, ALMON BRUCE French, went about comforting the bereaved.

We found the story IN A BOOK ON THE OCCULT WRITTEN BY NONE OTHER THAN ALMON BRUCE FRENCH himself.

THIS WAS AN EXTREMELY RARE DISCOVERY: A BOOK WRITTEN BY A guest’s ANCESTOR…AND IT WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED BACK IN 1892.

THE INTRODUCTION TELLS THE STORY OF the NIGHT that ALMON RETURNED HOME TO FIND HIS MOTHER AND SISTER IN AN ALTERED STATE.

AFFLECK: He sought the house, and on entering, found his mother and sister both entranced. He attempted to leave them, but the invisible beings controlling them commanded him to stay, for they had a work for him too great to be revealed. So (laughs) this is some sort of possession that he witnessed?

GATES: Yeah. In the 1870’s an idea called Spiritualism was extremely popular. Millions of people believed that the spirits of the dead wanted to communicate with the living. And most scholars think that spiritualism arose because of a huge death rate from the civil war.

AFFLECK: Mmm.

GATES: So… to process that the country went crazy and um…

AFFLECK: People started thinking they saw…

GATES: Yeah.

AFFLECK: …dead people.

GATES VO: Almon says that HE became convinced that he was a PARANORMAL medium.

SO HE BEGAN TRAVELING THE COUNTRY conducting SEANCES.

GATES: That’s his obituary, dated August 30th 1923.

AFFLECK: “Mr. French was an inspirational orator of great force and effectiveness. This gift developed in early youth, made him in great demand, especially in the field of spiritualism, and for many years he addressed gatherings of that religion and became one of the noted speakers of the times.” Alright well he got…he did it.

GATES: People would come and say can you see my mother, and he’d say yeah.

AFFLECK: Of course, I can (laughs).

GATES: Yeah. (laughs)

GATES: Sounds like a pretty interesting character.

AFFLECK: Sounds like a really interesting character, yeah. Somebody might call him a nut. Somebody might call him a, a, an intensely religious and spiritual guy, like –

GATES: He was serious, man.

AFFLECK: Yeah, it actually gives me a sense of pride to see somebody tried to comfort other people in the face of this great tragedy.

GATES VO: KHANDI ALEXANDER’S FAMILY faceD discrimination, simply BECAUSE THEY WERE BLACK, living IN THE DEEP SOUTH.

LIKE SO MANY AFRICAN AMERICAN FAMILIES, KHANDI’S CHOSE TO FOCUS ON THE FUTURE, RATHER THAN DWELL ON a PAINFUL PAST.

SO TODAY, KHANDI KNOWS ALMOST NOTHING ABOUT HER ANCESTORS’ STRUGGLES OR THEIR ACCOMPLISHMENTS.

ON KHANDI’S MOTHER’S SIDE, WE found A STORY THAT SHOWS THE PRICE HER ANCESTORS PAID FOR trying TO GET AHEAD IN THE SEGREGATED SOUTH oF THE 1930’S.

WE STARTED WITH HER GRANDFATHER: A MAN NAMED JOSHUA MASTERS, WHO STRUGGLED TO PROVIDE FOR HIS FAMILY.

Surprisingly, KHANDI HAD NEVER been told THE MOST BASIC DETAILS about her grandfather’s LIFE–she had never even seen his picture– until now…

GATES: Khandi, you’re looking at your grandfather.

ALEXANDER: My mother’s father?

GATES: That’s your mother’s father.

ALEXANDER: I’ve never seen a picture of him.

GATES: His name is Joshua Pinkney Masters, Jr.

ALEXANDER: I’ve never seen him. You know, he’s got that, very dark chocolate skin.

GATES: Um-hum.

ALEXANDER: That my mom had that I love. And he has…I’m sure it’s a sign of the times but he has this sadness in his eyes.

GATES VO: WE WANTED TO find out as much as we could about Khandi’s grandfather.

RECORDS SHOWED THAT MASTERS WAS BORN IN SAVANNAH, GEORGIA IN 1910, AT THE HEIGHT OF Jim Crow SEGREGATION.

HE joined the FLOOD of RURAL blacks WHO WERE MOVING TO southern CITIES IN THE 1920’S AND ‘30’S, LOOKING FOR WORK in factories.

KHANDI’S GRANDFATHER SETTLED IN JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA, WHERE HE FOUND A JOB AT A ROSIN FACTORY.

HE WAS ONE OF THE VERY FEW BLACK MEN allowed to work HIS WAY UP TO A SKILLED POSITION in THE COMPANY.

gates: Rosin is a chemical that’s derived from the sap of pine trees. And in the 1930’s it was a key ingredient in both glue and soap. Would you please turn the page?

ALEXANDER: Before we turn the page. Uh as a dancer.

gates: Mhm.

ALEXANDER: Rosin.

gates: Oh sure.

ALEXANDER: You put on your hands…

gates: Yeah of course you do.

ALEXANDER: Before you touch the ballet bar.

gates: Yeah. Absolutely.

ALEXANDER: Interesting. This is it, that’s Rosin isn’t it?

gates: That’s it.

ALEXANDER: That’s it.

gates: Your grandfather worked as a distiller in this plant, and that was a job that was generally reserved, Khandi, for white men. And it was his job to run the stills and guard against fire. So your grandfather was very important. Very good worker, he must have been smart, he was moving up in the world.

GATES VO: BUT ON DECEMBER 2, 1935, AN EXPLOSION ROCKED THE ROSIN FACTORY…AND ACCORDING TO NEWSPAPER REPORTS, only ONE MAN WAS INJURED: JOSH MASTERS, KHANDI’S GRANDFATHER.

ALEXANDER: “The east side of the distilling plant was blown out when one of the vats exploded. The explosion blew hot turpentine more than fifty feet.” (sighs)

GATES: Would you please turn the page. This is an article that appeared in the Florida Times Union, two days after the explosion. Can you read the transcribed section.

ALEXANDER: Joshua Masters, Negro, who was burnt early Tuesday morning in an explosion, died yesterday in Brewster Hospital. Wow.

GATES VO: WE TRACKED DOWN TWO OF KHANDI’S DISTANt COUSINS WHO HAD LIVED IN JACKSONVILLE. BOTH told us that JOSHUA’S DEATH WAS Not an ACCIDENT.

Friends told Khandi’s family that WHITE WORKERS RESENTED HAVING A BLACK BOSS.

SO THEY INTENTIONALLY RIGGED THE EXPLOSION THAT KILLED KHANDI’S GRANDFATHER. 

Under the circumstances, THIS TRAGEDY AMOUNTED TO A WORK-PLACE LYNCHING.

ALEXANDER: My goodness. At 25. Imagine what he could have done.

GATES: Oh yeah. That’s terrible.

ALEXANDER: I don’t know what my grandmother lived through being so young and left and then my family knowing that, you know, this wasn’t what it appeared to be.
GATES: Um-hum. Right.

ALEXANDER: And yet at the same time, I’m proud of him.

GATES: And your mom never talked about that?

ALEXANDER: Neither did my grandmother.

GATES: Hum.

ALEXANDER: Not a word. I never knew. Maybe it was too painful.

GATES: Um-hum.

ALEXANDER: You know?

GATES: Um-hum.

ALEXANDER: Maybe it was just too painful.

GATES VO: KHANDI’S FAMILY COPED WITH THIS TRAGEDY, as many of us do, BY attempting TO blot out its memory…but IN DOING SO, they CUT THEMSELVES OFF FROM this entire line of their family tree.

Which explains why KHANDI KNOWS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING ABOUT HER father’s ancestors beyond two generations.

NO NAMES. NO DATES. NO photoGRAPHS.

But with diligent research, WE MANAGED TO TRACE KHANDI’S FATHER’S LINE ALL THE WAY BACK TO HER GREAT-GREAT GRANDPARENTS: NICHOLAS HARRISON AND LENORA LOVE. THEY WERE BORN into slavery IN SOUTH CAROLINA but LIVED TO SEe FREEDOM come.

AND we DISCOVERED SOME OF THE RAREST treasures a black family can find: actual PHOTOGRAPHS of ancestorS who HAD BEEN ENSLAVED.

GATES: Khandi, you just met your great-great-grandparents.

ALEXANDER: My goodness.

ALEXANDER: Wow.

GATES: That is Nicholas Harrison and Lenora Love.
ALEXANDER: Strong looking woman. Isn’t she? I like that. And what a name, huh?

GATES: What a name.

ALEXANDER: That’s a stage name for you.

GATES: There you go.

ALEXANDER: Lenora Love.

GATES: And they were slaves. They were born slaves.

ALEXANDER: Wow (silent). That’s pretty amazing. The fact that there are pictures is amazing.

GATES: A miracle.

ALEXANDER: Really. A miracle.

GATES: Did you ever think about the fact that you had slaves in the family?

ALEXANDER: Oh, yeah, especially as I was going through very hard times in my life.

GATES: Um-hum.

ALEXANDER: Like I always looked down and I remember you know, my ancestors were people who were enslaved.

GATES: Um-hum. That’s a good way to put it.

ALEXANDER: The blood that runs through my body, are of the survivors. So, no matter what they do to me I’ve got to get up and I’ve got to keep going because if they did it, I can do it too.

GATES: That’s a beautiful way to put it.

ALEXANDER: I’ve always thought that.

GATES VO: WE wanted to see if we could TRACE THIS family BACK even FURTHER into slavery.

SO WE TRACKED DOWN NICHOLAS’S DEATH CERTIFICATE. IT contained THE NAME OF HIS FATHER: JOHN HARRISON, whom we presumed was a slave. This MAN is KHANDI’S 3RD GREAT GRANDFATHER.

WE NOW SEARCHED FOR recordS THAT might TELL US anything ABOUT JOHN HARRISON’S LIFE as a slave.

BUT IN THE 1860 CENSUS, WE FOUND something that startled us.

GATES: Can you read the transcribed name?

ALEXANDER: John Harrison.

GATES: Now, this is your third great-grandfather. And there’s just one thing. If you look at the column where his race is recorded, what do you see there?

ALEXANDER: W.

GATES: W. And “W” doesn’t mean “wise.” It means “white.” John Harrison was a white man.

ALEXANDER: Oh my goodness.

GATES VO: KHANDI’S 3rd GREAT-GRANDMOTHER WAS BORN INTO SLAVERY AND THERE IS NO RECORD OF HER NAME. BUT IT APPEARS THAT SHE WAS THE PROPERTY OF JOHN HARRISON…THE MAN WHO IMPREGNATED HER.

THAT WOULD MAKE JOHN HARRISON – THE WHITE MAN – both the master and the father of Khandi’s ANCESTOR Nicholas HARRISON.

ALEXANDER: It’s strange, you know, it’s a little complicated.  But now I know where my family picked cotton. I know where they were enslaved.

GATES: And who enslaved them.

ALEXANDER: Yes. Yes.

GATES: So you’re not angry at this guy? You won’t cross his name off your family tree?

ALEXANDER: I never had a family tree to start shaking, Skip, until, like, maybe you know, an hour ago. So I didn’t, I couldn’t, you know what can you do? I don’t hate anyone. I understand history as it was. It was something that wasn’t real to me before.

GATES: Um-hum.

ALEXANDER: And now suddenly it’s very real to me. Now I’m grateful that I’m here right now with all of this inside me.

GATES VO: One of Ben Jealous’s ancestors has long been the inspiration for HIS CAREER AS A political ACTIVIST…

HIS THIRD GREAT GRANDFATHER, PETER G. MORGAN, CHAMPIONED EQUAL RIGHTS for the freed slaves following the Civil War.

BUT BEN’S FAMILY KNOWS ALMOST NOTHING ABOUT PETER’S LIFE BEFORE THE WAR. SO Ben has often wondered how and when he gained his FREEDOM.

WE FOUND THE FIRST CLUE to solving this mystery IN A REGISTRY OF FREE people of color IN VIRGINIA FROM 1859, TWO YEARS BEFORE THE OUTBREAK OF THE CIVIL WAR.

JEALOUS: Peter G. Morgan, a free man of color, about 45 years of age, bright mulatto complexion, 5’10-1/2” high, has a scar in the eyebrow and was manumitted by deed on July 7, 1857.

GATES: Manumission means your ancestor became free.

JEALOUS: Right.

GATES: That’s your family’s freedom papers, man.

JEALOUS: Wow. I’ve never seen that before. The description of him and the scars on his face. There’s a story there, and I’d love to be able to ask Peter G. Morgan, how’d you become free?

GATES VO: TO ANSWER the question that has long INTRIGUED BEN, WE LOOKED CLOSER AND DISCOVERED SOME CRitical DETAILS ABOUT HIS ANCESTOR’S LIFE.

Only the most fortunate slaves were taught a TRADE. MOST LABORED IN THE FIELDS. BUT WE DISCOVERED PETER G. MORGAN WAS A SHOEMAKER.

through hard work and careful planning, Peter was able to SAVE ENOUGH MONEY TO purchase HIS own FREEDOM.

JEALOUS: Wow. To actually save for your own freedom. I’m sure that he had a plan. At some point, it must have become clear. If you save X, then you’ll be free, at some point, you do the math, right? Like, well, I’ve got to make 1,000 shoes or 2,000 shoes, 3,000 shoes, and each shoe has…I don’t know, 20 nails or whatever? Every nail you pound puts you closer to your freedom, So he literally knew that he was sitting there just pounding his way to freedom.
At some point, he was going to put in the last nail on the last pair of shoes he had to sell before he could get on with the rest of his life. It’s a big deal.

GATES VO: AS A FREE NEGRO, PETER WAS a member of A MINORITY WITHIN A MINORITY. ONLY 10% OF ALL BLACK people IN VIRGINIA WERE FREE by 1850.

and THEIR status was always vulnerable–their “freedom” ALWAYS AT RISK.

Freedmen HAD LIMITED LEGAL RIGHTS. AND at any time they could be KIDNAPPED AND SOLD BACK INTO SLAVERY.

WE wanted to find out HOW PETER FARED AS A FREE BLACK MAN IN THE SLAVE-HOLDING SOUTH. We were shocked by what we found…

IN THE 1860 CENSUS, PETER IS LISTED in A Slave Schedule: but not as a slave; rather, as the owner of slaves! four of them.

AND it turns out these SLAVES WERE HIS WIFE AND THREE DAUGHTERS.

GATES: Now, Ben, this is the slave schedule. It’s part of the federal census. And it lists the slaves owned by your ancestor Peter G Morgan.

JEALOUS: That’s something to see.

GATES: Can you read the transcription?

JEALOUS: “Slave inhabitants in the County of Nottaway, State of Virginia, 1860. Peter Morgan, one female slave, age 42; one female slave, age 8; one female slave, age 5; one female slave, age 2.”

GATES: Ben, that’s his family.

JEALOUS: In eight months, my son will be two, and my daughter will be eight. [CRYING]

GATES: A former slave owning slaves himself.

JEALOUS: Yeah, wow.

GATES: If Morgan had freed his family members, they would have had to risk going back into slavery. [JEALOUS WIPES EYES]

GATES: So he was caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.

JEALOUS: Right. Yeah, no, he was…yeah.

GATES: It was not uncommon for–

JEALOUS: But this, I had no idea. I had no idea that he had this many children. I had no idea that he was able to purchase them out of slavery, and I had no idea that he had to hold his family as slaves in order to protect them. That’s just a whole lot of courage.

GATES VO: FOR PETER, BUYING HIS FAMILY didn’t necessarily mean that he could free them.

THAT’S BECAUSE VIRGINIA LAW AT THE TIME REQUIRED THAT ANY SLAVE WHO was FREEd MUST MOVE OUT OF THE STATE WITHIN A YEAR…OR FACE RE-ENSLAVMENT.

PETER RECEIVED SPECIAL PERMISION TO STAY HERE AS A FREE NEGRO. BUT HE DIDn’t WANT TO TAKE ANY CHANCES WITH HIS FAMILY. THE ONLY WAY HE COULD GUARaNTEE THEY WOULD BE ALLOWED TO REMAIN with him IN VIRGINIA WAS to keep them AS HIS PROPERTY.

BUT IN 1864, Just a year before the end of the Civil War — PETER cast caution to the wind, and signed this LETTER OF EMANCIPATION, which FREED HIS WIFE AND CHILDREN.

JEALOUS: “I, Peter G. Morgan, a free man of color, for and in consideration of the natural love and affection which I bear for my wife Julia Anne Morgan and our children…I do hereby manumit, emancipate, and forever set them free from bondage to me or to anyone else, my said slaves, and I do furthermore endow them with all the privileges and amenities of free persons of color.” (weeps)

JEALOUS: What I love about this is he refers to his natural love and affection for his wife and his children, and he refers to them as said slaves. Which, you know, sort of disparages slavery in the act of setting his family free, right?

GATES: I have never, ever done the genealogy of any African-American with a document like that.

JEALOUS: That’s incredible.

GATES: Ben, this is 1864, the year before the end of the Civil War. Of course, nobody knew that in 1864.

JEALOUS: Right, so in the midst of the War.

GATES: So why do you think he did this?

JEALOUS: I think he probably had a sense which way history was going and wanted to make sure that his family was free, you know,

JEALOUS: He wanted his intention to be recorded.

GATES: Mmm-hmm.

JEALOUS: This is a man, seemed to be born with a fire to be free, right? It was not going to be denied to him.

GATES: Mmm-hmm.

JEALOUS: And we all want to believe that we descend from somebody like that.

GATES: Sure. We all hope and pray.

JEALOUS: We hope that we would have had that courage.

GATES: But guess what? You do.

JEALOUS: (laughs) It makes me feel very lucky.

GATES VO: The story of Peter’s decision to purchase his OWN FAMILY UNDERSCORES A FUNDAMENTAL CONTRADICTION AT THE HEART OF AMERICAN HISTORY.

Despite THE FACT THAT OUR NATION WAS FOUNDED ON the most noble NOTIONS OF FREEDOM AND EQUALITY, MANY BELIEVED THAT some men were MORE EQUAL than others.

AS I DUG DEEPER INTO THE FAMILY TREES OF MY THREE GUESTS, THIS CONTRADICTION BECAME EVER MORE APPARENT.

just two generations beyond our guests’ ancestors WHO’S lives were forever changed by the war that ended slavery, we uncovered other RELATIVES who risked their lives fighting FOR THE NATION’S INDEPENDENCE!

for BEN AFFLECK, WE’D ALREADY found an Ancestor who tried to help widows and orphans cope with their losses after the civil war.

now, going back three more generations, WE BEGAN TO PIECE TOGETHER THE STORY OF A FIGHT FOR FREEDOM THAT COULD have come RIGHT OUT OF ONE OF BEN’S MOVIES.

BEN’S 6TH GREAT GRANDFATHER WAS A MAN NAMED JESSE STANLEY.

Jesse WAS BORN IN 1757, IN GOSHEN, CONNECTICUT–A TOWN partly FOUNDED BY HIS FAMILY.

JESSE WAS A TEENAGER WORKING AS A FARMHAND IN THE 1770’S, just when tensions between the colonists and the British crown were about to ERUPT INTO WAR.

SO WE WANTED TO SEE IF BEN’S ANCESTOR TOOK UP ARMS TO FIGHT FOR INDEPENDENCE.

WE TURNED TO THE PENSION FILES OF THE CONTINENTAL ARMY.

EVERY VETERAN WHO WANTED A PENSION HAD TO FILL OUT AN APPLICATION THAT PROVED THEIR SERVICE.

SO WE SEARCHED THESE RECORDS FOR ANY MENTION OF BEN’S ANCESTOR, JESSE STANLEY.

AFFLECK: “The deponent in the month of January, about the middle of the month, 1776, being then a resident of the state of Connecticut, enlisted as a soldier.” Wow, so this means he enlisted in the Revolutionary Army in 1776?

GATES: That’s right. Your sixth great-grandfather volunteered to serve in the Patriot Army.

AFFLECK: Wow.

GATES: He fought, Ben, in the American Revolution.

AFFLECK: Wow. That is incredible.

GATES: You are descended from a patriot.

AFFLECK: I knew I felt a special affinity for the football team. That is really, really something. I love it. I’m developing this movie about, um, the Revolutionary War. Now, I see why I was drawn to it.

GATES: Yeah, you have a personal connection.

AFFLECK: That is amazing. Jesse Stanley, huh?

GATES: Yeah, your sixth great-grandfather.

AFFLECK: That is incredible. I don’t even know what to say.

GATES: And it’s fascinating to me that these family stories have been lost.

AFFLECK: Yeah, I’m sure that there’s so much of people’s history that gets lost over time. You have to really work to hold on to it I suppose.

GATES VO: ACCORDING TO THIS PENSION APPLICATION, JESSE STANLEY WAS ONE OF JUST 2,000 SOLDIERS WHO SERVED UNDER GEORGE WASHINGTON DURING SOME OF THE DARKEST DAYS OF THE WAR.

IN THE SUMMER OF 1776, WASHINGTON’S TROOPS HAD LOST A SERIES OF HUMILIATING BATTLES.

AND NOW A BATALLION OF 5,000 WELL-ARMED BRITISH TROOPS WAS CHASING THE PATRIOTS THROUGH THE WILDS OF NORTHERN MANHATTAN.

GATES: What do you think was going on (laughs) in your sixth great-grandfather’s mind?

AFFLECK: Fear, terror, I’m sure.

GATES: He was 18 years old.

AFFLECK: Oh my gosh.

GATES VO: THE BRITISH EXPECTED THE PATRIOTS TO CONTINUE their RETREAT…BUT IN THE HILLS OF HARLEM, GENERAL WASHINGTON designed AN AMBUSH THAT CAUGHT THE BRITISH BY SURPRISE.

GATES: It was Washington’s first victory of war, and your ancestor was part of it.

AFFLECK: Wow. Uh, among only 2,000 men.

GATES: Yeah, and he survived.

AFFLECK: And he survived, right. He survived the war.

GATES: How does it feel to you to know that you have an ancestor who served bravely in the American Revolution?

AFFLECK: I have to say. It makes me feel a little more connected to the history of the country you know? It makes it feel less academic and more personal. I’m very surprised by this and um I certainly never… we never saw our family as that like you know…

GATES: (laughs)

AFFLECK: …daughters of the American Revolution or whatever. Uh. So this is a big surprise and I’m really proud of it. And one of the things that’s interesting about it is we tend to separate ourselves from these things by going like you know oh well its just dry history and it’s all over now and this shows us that there’s still a living aspect of history, like a personal connection.

GATES VO: Ben Jealous, the son of a mixed race marriage told me that he’s always suspected that hIS WHITE roots also led back to colonial times. but he’d been cut off from that SIDE OF HIS ANCESTRY because of a bitTer family feud.
 
IT STARTED IN THE 1960’S WHEN BEN’S DAD, FRED JEALOUS, A COMMUNITY ACTIVIST FROM A BLUE-BLOOD NEW ENGLAND FAMILY, FELL IN LOVE WITH BEN’S MOM, A BLACK TEACHER FROM BALTIMORE.

GATES: How did his family treat him?

JEALOUS: His mom stuck by him. Um, my, uh…his father was dead. But my father’s grandfather and his one surviving uncle gave my father a very clear command: if you want to stay in this family, you need to fall out of love with her and in love with somebody else.

GATES VO: BEN’S DAD resisted family pressure to abandon the woman he loved…AND THIS DECISION COST BEN NOT ONLY access to HIS WHITE relatives, BUT ALSO a large inheritance.

FRED’S GREAT-GREAT-GREAT GRANDFATHER HAD founded SARGENT AND COMPANY–ONCE ONE OF THE LARGEST HARDWARE MANUFACTURERS IN THE WORLD.

JEALOUS: My father knew, as the eldest grandson, he was losing a whole lot of property and a whole lot of money, and he really didn’t care. He was in love, and he certainly wasn’t going to have his family dictate to him who he could love. And I think, for him, there was a birthright that was more than money. There was a birthright of heritage, of history, a sense of ownership of this country.

GATES VO: BECAUSE FRED married a black woman, BEN IS ESTRANGED FROM MANY OF HIS WHITE RELATIVES…and knowledge of HALF OF the ancestors on his family tree.

WE WANTED TO GIVE them BACK TO HIM.

WE PIECED TOGETHER BEN’S FATHER’S line BACK TO HIS SIXTH GREAT-GRANDFATHER, A MAN NAMED JONATHAN HARRINGTON.

HE WAS BORN IN THE PROVINCE OF MASSACHUSETTS BAY IN 1758.

AND HE LIVED TO BE ALMOST 100 YEARS OLD. SO, REMARKABLY, WE WERE ABLE TO FIND A PHOTO OF JOHN TAKEN IN THE 1850’s.

GATES: Could you turn the page? Now have you ever seen this picture?

JEALOUS: (laughs) No. He looks a little like Scrooge’s brother.

GATES: That is your sixth great-grandfather, Ben.

GATES VO: AS A TEENAGER, BEN’S SIXTH GREAT-GRANDFATHER, JONATHAN, LIVED IN LEXINGTON, THE MASSACHUSETTS TOWN WHERE THE REVOLUTION BEGAN.

WE WANTED TO SEE IF HE, like Ben Affleck’s ancestor, TOOK UP ARMS IN THE WAR.

ONCE AGAIN, THE ARCHIVES OF THE CONTINENTAL ARMY HELD THE ANSWER.

JEALOUS: “In the war of the revolution, Harrington, Jonathan, fifer, in a detachment from Lexington Militia, commanded by John Bridge.” Wow. Wow!

GATES: So we all know about the shot heard ‘round the world?

JEALOUS: Right.

GATES: Well, you’re a direct descendant of someone who actually heard that shot.

JEALOUS: Wow. That’s pretty cool.

GATES: Jonathan served at the battles of Lexington and Concord. He was a foot soldier who played the fife during combat. He was 16 years old at the time, Ben.

JEALOUS: Wow. That had to be a pretty big deal. Actually seeing a photograph of somebody who did that that you descend from is pretty overwhelming.

GATES VO: Searching through these ARCHIVES, WE FOUND THAT JONATHAN HARRINGTON WAS NOT BEN’S ONLY ANCESTOR TO FIGHT in the American Revolution.

WE CROSS-REFERENCED BEN’S ENTIRE FAMILY TREE AGAINST THE PENSION RECORDS AND FOUND MATCHES FOR EIGHT OF BEN’S ANCESTORS WHO WERE PATRIOTS.

JEALOUS: Wow, eight. Trask, Choate, Faye, Watson, Baldwin, Craig, Harrington…Harrington again…senior and junior.

GATES: The father and the son served in the war together.

JEALOUS: I’m blown away by this…

GATES: Pretty cool.

JEALOUS: Yeah, it just speaks to a depth of commitment and, and sacrifice.

GATES: It does.

JEALOUS: And it affirms the strong sense of connection that my father feels to New England.

GATES: Mm hmm.

JEALOUS: But to look at the names of eight men, who all risked their lives and who led other men into battle in what was at the time the greatest crusade for civil and human rights that, uh, the world had known. It’s pretty humbling.

GATES VO: WE HAD LEARNED THAT KHANDI ALEXANDER’S THIRD GREAT-GRANDFATHER WAS A WHITE SLAVE OWNER NAMED JOHN HARRISON, WHO FATHERED A CHILD WITH A SLAVE.

NEXT we wanted to see what more we could learn about his family HISTORY, Khandi’s white ancestors.

WE DISCOVERED THAT HIS FATHER WAS A MAN NAMED REUBEN HARRISON.

HE’S KHANDI’S FOURTH GREAT GRANDFATHER– WHO LIVED IN SOUTH CAROLINA IN THE 1770’S.

ALEXANDER: “Reuben Harrison. Served in General Henderson’s Brigade. And Captain Stark’s Company.”

GATES: That’s the military record for your fourth great-grandfather.

ALEXANDER: Wow.

GATES: He fought in the American Revolution.

ALEXANDER: Wow. That’s very cool.

GATES: When the British took over South Carolina, your fourth great-grandfather volunteered to fight. He was a hero. (overlap)

ALEXANDER: He was right there. My goodness.

GATES VO: KHANDI’S FOURTH GREAT GRANDFATHER, REUBEN HARRISON, FOUGHT FOR America’s freedom… BUT THE MORE CLOSELY WE LOOKED AT his life, THE MORE complicated HE BECAME.

LAND DEEDS REVEALED THAT AFTER THE REVOLUTION, REUBEN OWNED A 3,000-ACRE FARM IN SOUTH CAROLINA. WE WONDERED, HOW DID THIS FORMER PATRIOT RUN SUCH A LARGE PLANTATION?

DID HE use SLAVE LABOR?

WE FOUND THE ANSWER IN THE 1810 CENSUS.

ALEXANDER: “Reuben Harrison, slaves owned: 85.”

GATES: Ruben Harrison, this Patriot…was himself a slave owner.

 ALEXANDER: Exactly. Enslaved others.  It’s interesting because in my family,
On one hand you have this horrific thing, your ancestors being enslaved, y’know — [overlap]

GATES: Yeah, that’s your great-great-grandfather Nicholas Harrison.

ALEXANDER: Yes.  And then you have an ancestor who is directly responsible for the freedom that I enjoy.

GATES VO: THE STORY OF KHANDI’S FOURTH GREAT-GRANDFATHER, REUBEN HARRISON, FORCES US TO CONFRONT A PAINFUL TRUTH ABOUT THE REVOLUTION. IT WAS A noble FIGHT FOR FREEDOM–BUT NOT freedom FOR ALL.

THE MAJORITY OF THE MEN WHO SIGNED THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE WERE SLAVE OWNERS THEMSELVES…A FACT THAT PROMPTED ONE ENGLISH WRITER TO ASK: “HOW IS IT THAT WE HEAR THE LOUDEST YELPS FOR LIBERTY AMONG THE DRIVERS OF NEGROES?”
 
FOR many of the Patriots of the NEW REPUBLIC, slavery was a necessary evil…SO CRUCIAL TO THE ECONOMY THAT a majority of the FOUNDING FATHERS FEARED THE FLEDGLING NATION WOULD COLLAPSE WITHOUT IT.

GATES: How do you think your fourth great-grandfather reconciled this contradiction?

ALEXANDER: I don’t think he saw them as equals, as human beings.

GATES: Um-hum.

ALEXANDER: I think that’s how they, any of them.

GATES: Um-hum.

ALEXANDER: Yes, you’re property. You’re property and I know you breathe and eat and work but you’re like an animal. You’re like a step above and animal because I can talk to you.

GATES: Right. That’s how things worked. That was business.

ALEXANDER: Yeah. That’s right.

GATES: What do you make of the history of this country, a country founded on such grand principles that nonetheless allowed our black ancestors to be treated as property?

ALEXANDER: Y’know Skip, I’m very proud to be American. I really am. As a woman, there’s no place else I think on this Earth I would be as free, you know.

GATES: Oh, no question.

ALEXANDER: No place. But, you know, I’ve always been amazed by this country’s blind spots. There’s a lot of pain in that.

GATES VO: FOR all African Americans, the names of OUR black ancestors simply DISAPPEAR SOMEWHERE IN THE ABYSS OF SLAVERY… listed in documents as property, not as people.

GATES: I wanted to give you this.

BUT when we search for white ancestors, the paper trail can be remarkably long.

BEN AFFLECK’s ancestors left CENTURIES WORTH OF DOCUMENTS LISTING themselves BY NAME.

AFFLECK: Oh, wow. That is fabulous. Thank you so much. This is amazing.

GATES: Look down there at yourself, and then find your dad. There’s Tim.

GATES: On your father’s side, we traced your family, Ben, all the way back to a guy named Richard Platt, your 10th great-grandfather. He was born in England when Shakespeare was alive in 1604. And then, look at your mom’s side. We traced your family tree back to your sixth great-grandfather, who was Swiss. Did you know you had Swiss ancestors?

AFFLECK: No, I didn’t, but I…I like it. I feel much much sexier now.

GATES: (laughs)

GATES VO: WE FOUND ONE LAST SURPRISE BURIED DEEP IN Ben’s PAPER TRAIL: He actually SHARES A DISTANT ANCESTOR WITH ANOTHER OSCAR WINNER.

AFFLECK: You’re kidding. (laughs) That looks like Matt Damon. He’s my cousin?

GATES: You and Matt Damon are 10th cousins once removed. You can see, your common ancestor is William Knowlton, Jr. Born 1614 Knowlton Manor Hall, England.

AFFLECK: That is insane. That is so funny.

GATES: (laughs) You had no idea?

AFFLECK: No, but that’s great. (laughs) Wow.

GATES: You have impressive roots.

AFFLECK: You know, I find this very powerful because it just reminds you that, you know, life is finite, and you have a brief story to tell. It’s actually quite affecting because you see history as not only living but as living in you. All those start-by and end-by dates, you know…eventually there will be two of those affixed to your name, and that will be what you will have left behind, including you know, maybe some breakout paragraphs. It encourages one to do one’s best, I think.

GATES VO: FOR AFRICAN AMERICANS LIKE BEN JEALOUS AND KHANDI ALEXANDER, the end of the paper trail in slavery USED TO mean THE END OF OUR JOURNEY INTO THE PAST. BUT DNA HAS CHANGED ALL OF THAT.

WE COLLECTED SALIVA FROM EACH GUEST, AND HAD THREE SEPARATE GENETIC COMPANIES ANALYZE EACH SAMPLE.

THE FIRST TEST WAS AN ADMIXTURE ANALYSIS. IT MEASURES THE PERCENTAGE OF African, European, Asian, or Native American mutations THAT you’ve INHERITED FROM YOUR ancestors.

GATES: Ben take a guess what your admixture will be…

GATES VO: WE HAD TRACED BEN JEALOUS BACK TO WHITE FREEDOM FIGHTERS AND A BLACK ABOLITIONIST. What more would DNA TELL US ABOUT the deeper roots of his ancestry?

JEALOUS: Eighty percent European.

GATES: Eighty percent European.

JEALOUS: Eighteen point two percent sub-Saharan African, .5 percent Middle Eastern and North African, .2 percent East Asian and Native American…

GATES: You are the whitest black man that we have tested. (laughs)

JEALOUS: (laughs) You were waiting for that.

GATES: (laughs) The President of the NAACP… Did you ever pass? I mean were there ever um events where you knew people were taking you for a white person and you didn’t correct them?

JEALOUS: I remember getting into a cab in Harlem and the cab driver would say, I’m so glad you got in my cab cause there was this black dude like a block…and I just said, “Can I please have your license number (laughs) your taxi number?”

GATES: (laughs)

JEALOUS: You know…people will look at me and see me as whatever they want. You know I’m a Puerto Rican, I’m Italian, I’m Jewish. Whatever they are, they tend to project right? And that just makes sense.

GATES: So I’m curious, how would you answer the question, “Ben Jealous, what race are you?”

JEALOUS: I’m black. The law in Virginia at the time that I was born was 1/32. I’m a lot more than 1/32.

GATES: You’re getting close.

JEALOUS: One-thirty-second would be three percent.

GATES: Three percent…oh, you got it down. (laughs) That said, I’m ready, baby.

JEALOUS: (laughs)

GATES: In light of everything that we’ve discussed, what do you think makes us who we are? Our experiences? Our families? Our DNA? What?

JEALOUS: For me, it always comes back to my conversations with my grandmother. She instilled in me, the most important thing at the end of the day is just who you are, and who I am is somebody who’s spent their entire life fighting for civil and human rights for other people, and I look at my family tree, and it’s clear that, on both sides, it’s been a big part of what people in my family have chosen to do for a long time, and that’s affirming and grounding and… I feel like sort of the other foot is planted.

GATES VO: KHANDI ALEXANDER STARTED THIS JOURNEY UNCOMFORTABLE CALLING HERSELF AFRICAN AMERICAN, BECAUSE SHE FELT little CONNECTION TO “THE MOTHERLAND.”

SO WE USED AN ADMIXTURE TEST TO see how “African” she might be.

ALEXANDER: Look at that.

GATES:. How much European?

ALEXANDER: Twenty-four point one European.

GATES: And how much African?

ALEXANDER: 73.9 Sub-saharan African. Okay, so I am African-American, aren’t I?

GATES: You are an African-American.

ALEXANDER: That’s huge, that’s huge.

GATES VO: NOW THAT WE HAD TRACED KHANDI’s ancestry BACK TO AFRICA, WE WERE ABLE TO USE ANOTHER, MORE SPECIFIC ADMIXTURE TEST TO TELL HER WHERE ON THE CONTINENT HER DIFFERENT African ANCESTORS CAME FROM.

GATES: There were 388 thousand Africans shipped directly to the United States in the Slave Trade. But they came from everywhere from Senegal down to Angola. These countries didn’t exist then but the countries that exist today. And now let’s see where in Africa your African-American component comes from.

ALEXANDER: Nigeria.

GATES: Twenty-five percent of your African ancestry comes from Eastern Nigeria where the Igbo people live.

ALEXANDER: So if I were going to Africa, it’s Nigeria that I would want to go to. [overlap]

GATES: You would want to go to Nigeria and then drop over to Ghana, which is two countries away.

GATES: So now you can name the actual places where your African ancestors came from.

ALEXANDER: My god.

GATES: And it’s encoded in your genome, which is miraculous. Does it change the way you see yourself?

ALEXANDER: Yeah. It does, I feel a little bit at peace, actually. Something I never was interested in, never focused on or even thought about is flooding me and I feel warm and I feel like I belong to something bigger than me.

GATES: Khandi Alexander…

ALEXANDER: Oh, Skip…

GATES: Thanks for allowing us to introduce you to your ancestors.

ALEXANDER: Thank you for inviting me.

SKIP (PIECE TO CAMERA): THAT’S THE END OF our JOURNEY THROUGH THE FAMILY TREES OF KHANDI ALEXANDER, BEN JEALOUS, AND BEN AFFLECK. JOIN ME AS WE UNEARTH THE BURIED ROOTS OF three new guests–NEXT TIME on Finding your Roots.

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