African American Lives 2 -- Hosted by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
In Search of Our Roots -- Buy the companion book now from ShopPBS
Sharing Stories: One Family's Story
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Grandma Texas and Oklahoma 1880s Oklahoma My paternal grandmother

My paternal grandmother, whose genealogy had always been a mystery to me, shared with me a life changing story when I was 25 years old. I asked her about her parents and grandparents to help my son with a school family tree project. She told me what she could, but said she'd have to consult her mother's Bible to get her grandparents' names because as grandma said, they "died on that reservation." I thought she mispoke and asked her to say it again. She nonchalantly said, "Oh, my grandparents were Indians, well at least my grandma was." Now as Dr. Gates' show depicts, many African American families pass on oral traditions of at least one Indian in the family. Unfortunately, as seen with most of his guests, it doesn't pan out. But my grandma remembered just about everything, and what she didn't, our tribe, The Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma, filled in. Grandma talked about having to conceal being Indian when her family moved from Oklahoma to California. Her mother told her folks wouldn't understand. So grandma kept being Black and Indian for nearly 69 years! She didn't tell her younger siblings born outside of Oklahoma, nor my father.

For decades my father made up stories explaining his distinct, non-black features. Oddly enough, I was the one to share the story with him. The impact of grandma's story was great because now some ten years later, both the maternal and paternal sides of my family are active in both the American Indian and African American communities. My children know full well who they are and will never live under the shadows of doubt and fear!

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Major corporate funding for African American Lives 2 and its outreach initiatives is provided by The Coca-Cola Company and Johnson & Johnson. Additional corporate funding is provided by Buick.
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