Finding Your Roots Author Ta-Nehisi Coates, activist Janet Mock and filmmaker…


WELCOME TO
“FINDING YOUR ROOTS”. IN THIS EPISODE, WE’LL MEET
FILM DIRECTOR AVA DUVERNAY, SOCIAL ACTIVIST JANET MOCK AND
JOURNALIST TA-NEHISI COATES. THREE VISIONARIES WHO’VE
CHANGED OUR UNDERSTANDING OF BLACK AMERICA WHILE KNOWING
LITTLE ABOUT THE ANCESTORS WHO MADE THEIR OWN
ACHIEVEMENTS POSSIBLE. AVA DUVERNAY: THIS IS
FASCINATING THAT YOUR WHOLE HISTORY IS JUST BLANK. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
TOTALLY BLANK. AVA DUVERNAY:
WE JUST DON’T KNOW. JANET MOCK: I DIDN’T THINK
THAT THIS WAS POSSIBLE. TA-NEHISI COATES: I JUST
WANT TO KNOW WHAT WAS GOING ON. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
TO EXPLORE THEIR ROOTS, WE’VE USED EVERY
TOOL AVAILABLE, GENEALOGISTS HELPED STITCH
TOGETHER THE PAST FROM THE PAPER TRAIL THEIR
ANCESTORS LEFT BEHIND, WHILE DNA EXPERTS HAVE
UTILIZED THE LATEST ADVANCES IN GENETIC ANALYSIS TO REVEAL
SECRETS HUNDREDS OF YEARS OLD. AND WE’VE COMPILED IT
ALL INTO A BOOK OF LIFE. AVA DUVERNAY: WOW. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
WE CREATED THIS JUST FOR YOU. JANET MOCK: OH MY GOD! HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: A
RECORD OF ALL OUR DISCOVERIES. AVA DUVERNAY: IT FEELS
LIKE GHOSTS ON PAPER. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: YEAH. AVA DUVERNAY: IT’S
KIND OF HAUNTING. JANET MOCK: I’M PROCESSING,
I’M, LIKE, HYPERVENTILATING. TA-NEHISI COATES:
IT’S A BEAUTIFUL THING, IT’S A BEAUTIFUL THING. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: MY THREE
GUESTS ARE PART OF A NEW WAVE OF AFRICAN AMERICANS WHO
ARE INTERPRETING THE BLACK EXPERIENCE IN FRESH
AND CHALLENGING WAYS. JANET MOCK: I STAND HERE AS
SOMEONE WHO HAS WRITTEN HERSELF ONTO THIS STAGE. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
IN THIS EPISODE, THEY’LL EXPLORE THE EXPERIENCES OF
THEIR OWN ANCESTORS, HEARING STORIES THAT WILL CHANGE
THE WAY THEY SEE THEMSELVES. (THEME MUSIC PLAYS) ♪ ♪ NARRATOR: CORPORATE FUNDING
FOR “FINDING YOUR ROOTS” WAS PROVIDED BY… WOMAN: WHEN WE
LEARN WHERE WE COME FROM, WE LEARN A DEEPER
STORY ABOUT OURSELVES. AT ANCESTRY, THERE ARE DIFFERENT
PATHS TO DISCOVERING YOUR STORY. FROM BUILDING
YOUR FAMILY TREE… TO LEARNING YOUR FULL ETHNICITY
AND REVEALING ANCESTORS YOU NEVER KNEW YOU HAD. ANCESTRY HELPS YOU
CONNECT TO YOUR UNIQUE STORY MAN: WE ALL COME FROM SUCH
DIFFERENT BACKGROUNDS, THAT YOU NEVER KNOW. WOMAN: LEARN MORE AT
Ancestry.com NATASHA: MY PARENTS DECIDED TO
MOVE TO AMERICA FROM JAMICA. I SUCCEEDED BECAUSE
EVERYONE WANTED ME TO. THEY ALL SAW SOMETHING
IN ME THAT, FOR A WHILE, I DIDN’T SEE IN MYSELF. AS A PERSON WHO DEEMS
THEM-SELF AS SUCCESSFUL… IT’S YOUR DUTY TO REACH BACK
AND TRY TO HELP OTHER PEOPLE. WOMAN: ONE WAY OR ANOTHER, WE’VE ALWAYS BEEN CONNECTED. AT AT&T WE’RE CONTINUING
TO CREATE TECHNOLOGY THAT WILL HELP PEOPLE STAY CONNECTED. NOW AND INTO THE FUTURE. NARRATOR: MAJOR FUNDING WAS
PROVIDED BY THE FORD FOUNDATION. BY CANDACE KING WEIR. BY DR. GEORGETTE BENNETT
AND DR. LEONARD POLONSKY, CBE. BY THE HUTCHINS
FAMILY FOUNDATION. AND BY THESE ADDITIONAL FUNDERS. BY THE CORPORATION
FOR PUBLIC BROADCASTING. AND BY CONTRIBUTIONS
TO THIS PBS STATION FROM VIEWERS LIKE YOU,
THANK YOU. (INAUDIBLE CHATTER) HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
AVA DUVERNAY IS A HOLLYWOOD MIRACLE. SHE’S A PRODUCER,
DIRECTOR AND WRITER, WORKING IN SCRIPTED
FICTION AND IN DOCUMENTARY, AND SUCCEEDING
BRILLIANTLY AT BOTH. AS ONE OF ONLY A HANDFUL
OF BLACK WOMAN FILM-MAKERS, AVA HAS OVERCOME TREMENDOUS
ODDS AND SHE CREDITS IT ALL TO HER FAMILY. AVA DUVERNAY: EVERYTHING I
DO I’M TRYING TO PLEASE THEM. MAKE THEM PROUD. SEND THEM AN EMAIL. SEND THEM A TEXT. DID YOU SEE THIS? JUST MAKE THEM HAPPY. MY MOM NOTORIOUSLY GIVES
THE BEST REACTIONS OF ANYONE. IT’S YOUR BIRTHDAY? IT’S YOUR BIRTHDAY! CONGRATULATIONS! WE LOVE TO DO THINGS
JUST TO SEE HER REACT. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
THAT’S GREAT. AVA DUVERNAY: SO I FIND THAT
WHEN I REALLY DISSECT MY CAREER, EVERYTHING THAT
I’M DOING IS JUST TO GET MY MOTHER’S REACTION. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: AVA’S
BIG BREAKTHROUGH CAME IN 2014, WITH THE FILM “SELMA” WHICH
TELLS THE HEROIC STORY OF THE VOTING RIGHTS
CAMPAIGN OF 1965. IT’S AN ASTONISHINGLY
POWERFUL WORK, CAPTURING ONE OF THE
MOST ICONIC CHAPTERS OF THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT
IN INTIMATE HUMAN DETAIL, A DISTINCT APPROACH, THAT
REFLECTS AVA’S OWN HISTORY. AVA DUVERNAY: THE REASON
WHY I FELT SO CONNECTED TO IT, IMMEDIATELY, AND NOT
AS INTIMIDATED BY IT AS I GUESS I PROBABLY SHOULD’VE,
IN HINDSIGHT, BUT CONNECTED TO IT WAS
BECAUSE OF THE TOWN OF SELMA, AND THAT WAS WHERE MY FATHER,
THE AREA THAT MY FATHER IS FROM, LOWNDES COUNTY, ALABAMA. SO, I’D BEEN THERE, I’D SPENT SUMMERS THERE,
CHRISTMAS VACATIONS THERE. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: AND
IT’S SO UNUSUAL, YOU KNOW? PEOPLE, YOU WOULD THINK,
WELL, I READ TAYLOR BRANCH, OR I SAW MARTIN LUTHER KING
WHEN I WAS A KID, OR WHATEVER, BUT FOR YOU IT WAS
ABOUT THE COMMUNITY. AVA DUVERNAY: IT WAS
JUST THE PEOPLE OF SELMA. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: YOU
MADE THE BLACK PEOPLE OF SELMA SUBJECTS, RATHER THAN OBJECTS. AVA DUVERNAY: YES,
THAT’S WHAT WE TRIED TO DO. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
SELMA WON DOZENS OF AWARDS, IT WAS NOMINATED FOR TWO
OSCARS AND IT MADE AVA ONE OF THE MOST SOUGHT AFTER
DIRECTORS IN HOLLYWOOD TODAY BUT EVEN AS SHE BRANCHES OUT,
AVA IS STILL DRIVEN BY HER CONNECTION TO HER AFRICAN
AMERICAN HERITAGE. AVA DUVERNAY: IT’S A
HUGE PART OF MY IDENTITY. I MEAN, THAT’S OBVIOUS, BUT
I MEAN IF I WAS PUT IN A ROOM AND MADE TO CHOOSE, ONE SIDE
OF THE ROOM WAS BLACK PEOPLE AND ONE SIDE OF THE ROOM WAS
WOMEN, FOR ME, RACE IS, UM, KIND OF TAKES THE LEAD IN
TERMS OF THE WAY THAT I IDENTIFY, SO I WOULD BE
OVER WITH THE BLACK FOLK. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: DO
YOU THINK THAT’LL CHANGE, WHERE RACE TRUMPS GENDER,
RACE TRUMPS CLASS, RACE TRUMPS EVERYTHING? AVA DUVERNAY: I DON’T. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: MM-HM. AVA DUVERNAY:
I DON’T, YOU KNOW? I THINK THAT WE LIVE
IN TIMES THAT ARE VERY MUCH DEFINED BY RACE. I THINK THAT WE
WON’T SEE CHANGE, UM, TO THAT IN OUR GENERATION, OR EVEN THE
GENERATION RIGHT BEHIND US. AND SO, FOR ME, TO BE
AFRICAN-AMERICAN IS VERY MUCH PART OF MY HEARTBEAT. TA-NEHISI COATES:
I WANT PEOPLE TO BE DISTURBED, LIKE THE LITERATURE
I LOVE DISTURBS ME. I WANT THEM TO, YOU KNOW,
TO FEEL THAT. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: LIKE AVA, TA-NEHISI COATES IS
RE-IMAGINING BLACK AMERICA THROUGH A UNIQUE LENS,
HIS BEST-SELLING MEMOIR, “BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME”
IS AN IMPASSIONED ACCOUNT OF WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A
BLACK MAN IN AMERICA TODAY. AND IT COMES ON THE HEELS OF A
SERIES OF SEMINAL ESSAYS ABOUT OBAMA’S PRESIDENCY, POLICING
AND THE HISTORICAL CASE FOR REPARATIONS FOR SLAVERY. TAKEN AS A WHOLE, COATES’
WORK HAS MARKED HIM AS ONE OF OUR LEADING
PUBLIC INTELLECTUALS, SO I WAS SURPRISED TO LEARN THAT HE DIDN’T GROW UP
WANTING TO BE AN INTELLECTUAL OF ANY SORT. ON THE CONTRARY: TA-NEHISI FOUND SCHOOL
INSUFFERABLY BORING. TA-NEHISI COATES:
I HATED BEING TALKED AT. I STILL HATE BEING TALKED AT. HAVING TO SIT THERE AND LISTEN
TO SOMEBODY TALK TO YOU FOR 50 STRAIGHT MINUTES, AND
THEN GO TO ANOTHER ROOM WHERE THEY DO THAT OVER AND
OVER AGAIN FOR AN ENTIRE DAY, I JUST,
I HAD NOTHING FOR IT. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: IN
SPITE OF HIS TROUBLES IN THE CLASSROOM, TA-NEHISI TOLD ME
THAT HE WAS IRRESISTIBLY DRAWN TO WRITING AND THAT HIS PARENTS
NEVER FAILED TO ENCOURAGE HIM, EVEN WHEN HIS
PROSPECTS SEEMED BLEAK. TA-NEHISI COATES: I’VE BEEN
WRITING FOR AS LONG AS I CAN REMEMBER, YOU KNOW, IN VARIOUS
INTONATIONS, POETRY, YOU KNOW, HIP-HOP, UM, ESSAYS, FICTION,
I’VE BEEN DOING THAT FOR AS LONG AS I, MY MOM, WHEN
I USED TO GET IN TROUBLE, USED TO MAKE ME WRITE ESSAYS. YOU KNOW, SO, YEAH. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: HOW
LONG DID IT TAKE TO REALIZE YOU COULD FLY AS A WRITER,
THAT YOU COULD SUPPORT YOURSELF AS A JOURNALIST? TA-NEHISI COATES: A LONG TIME,
PROBABLY ABOUT 15 YEARS. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: REALLY? TA-NEHISI COATES: YEAH,
LIKE WHAT I REALIZED WAS NOT SO MUCH THAT I COULD MAKE A
STABLE LIVING DOING IT, BUT IT WAS WHO I WAS, AND I
COULDN’T CHANGE THAT, AND SO, YOU KNOW, IF THAT MEANT THAT,
YOU KNOW, I WAS, YOU KNOW, GONNA GO DOWN WITH THE SHIP,
THEN THAT WAS WHAT IT WAS. I DIDN’T HAVE ANOTHER SHIP. THAT WAS IT. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: STAYING
ON “THE SHIP” WOULD PROVE TO BE A WISE DECISION. TA-NEHISI HAS DEVELOPED A
HIGHLY DISTINCTIVE VOICE, BORN OF A PROFOUND CONNECTION
TO BLACK POLITICS, CULTURE, AND HISTORY. TA-NEHISI COATES: WHEN I
THINK ABOUT BLACK FOLKS, I THINK ABOUT STRUGGLE. YOU KNOW, I THINK ABOUT
STRUGGLE, YOU KNOW, IN THE FACE OF, YOU KNOW,
WHAT LOOKS LIKE, YOU KNOW, NO HOPE AT ALL, YOU KNOW,
STRUGGLE BECAUSE STRUGGLE HAS ITS OWN REWARDS. THAT, THAT TO ME IS THE
GREATEST INHERITANCE, YOU KNOW, THE NECESSITY,
YOU KNOW, TO FIGHT, YOU KNOW, NO MATTER, YOU KNOW,
WHETHER, YOU KNOW, YOU THINK YOU’RE
GONNA WIN OR NOT. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
ABSOLUTELY. TA-NEHISI COATES: THE
WHOLE REASON THAT I’M HERE, I’M THE RESULT OF FOLKS
STRUGGLING AGAINST THINGS MUCH, MUCH HARDER AND DARKER. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
MAKING A WAY OUT OF NO WAY. TA-NEHISI COATES:
RIGHT, RIGHT. JANET MOCK: I STAND HERE, TO
UNAPOLOGETICALLY PROCLAIM THAT I AM A TRANS WOMAN, WRITER,
ACTIVIST, REVOLUTIONARY, OF COLOR. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
MY THIRD GUEST IS JANET MOCK, ONE OF AMERICA’S
LEADING ADVOCATES FOR TRANSGENDER RIGHTS. LIKE AVA AND TA-NEHISI,
JANET KNOWS WHAT IT MEANS TO STRUGGLE, SHE’S BEEN DOING
IT ALMOST HER ENTIRE LIFE. JANET MOCK: I THINK ONE OF THE
FIRST THINGS WE LEARN ABOUT OURSELVES IS OUR
GENDER, AND SO, FOR ME, RIGHT WHEN THAT DOCTOR, I
ASSUME, SMACKED ME ON MY ASS, AND HE SAID, “THIS IS A BOY,”
THAT’S KIND OF WHAT EVERYONE WENT ALONG WITH,
BECAUSE OF THE PRESENCE OF WHAT MY BODY LOOKED LIKE. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
JANET WAS BORN IN HONOLULU, THE CHILD OF AN
AFRICAN AMERICAN FATHER AND A HAWAIIAN MOTHER. SHE REALIZED AT A VERY YOUNG
AGE THAT SHE WAS A GIRL. BUT GETTING OTHERS TO ACCEPT
THAT FACT WAS ANOTHER MATTER. FORTUNATELY, SHE ALWAYS
HAD HER MOTHER’S SUPPORT. JANET MOCK: YOU KNOW, WHEN I
CAME TO MY MOM AND I TOLD HER, I DIDN’T KNOW WHAT
LANGUAGE I USED, BUT WHEN I BASICALLY
TOLD HER THAT I WAS TRANS AT 13 YEARS OLD,
SHE DIDN’T RAISE AN EYEBROW, SHE DIDN’T TELL ME THAT
I NEED TO GET MY HAIR CUT, SHE DIDN’T, YOU KNOW,
SAY, SHE DIDN’T NEGATE ME. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
THAT’S EXTRAORDINARY. JANET MOCK: AND
YOU KNOW, MY MOM TOO, HER, A LOT OF HER FAMILY, YOU KNOW,
THEY DOUBTED HER PARENTING. THEY’RE JUST LIKE,
“WHY ARE YOU LETTING HIM WEAR THESE CLOTHES? WHY ARE YOU LETTING
HIM TAKE HORMONES? WHY ARE YOU
LETTING HIM GALLIVANT AROUND THE PLAYGROUND?” HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: “HE
NEEDS TO GO TO MILITARY SCHOOL.” JANET MOCK: OR SOMETHING,
RIGHT, IN THE SENSE, YOU KNOW, LIKE, AND MY MOM, SHE TOOK
ON A LOT OF THAT STUFF, BUT SHE NEVER
BROUGHT THAT TO ME. SO, I DIDN’T GROW UP
WITH A SENSE OF, UM, I NEED TO CHANGE,
OR I NEED TO FIT, OR I NEED TO SHRINK MYSELF
OR HIDE PARTS OF MYSELF. AND I THINK THAT THAT DEEPLY
IMPACTED MY LIFE AND ENABLED ME TO DO ALL OF THE
WORK THAT I DO NOW. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
JANET’S MOTHER GAVE HER THE CONFIDENCE SHE
NEEDED TO SUCCEED, BUT JANET KNOWS THAT
SHE’S AN EXCEPTION. AND BECAUSE OF THAT, SHE’S
DEEPLY COMMITTED TO THOSE WHO HAVEN’T BEEN SO FORTUNATE. JANET MOCK: I THINK
WHAT I ALWAYS FEEL IS THE BURDEN TO REPRESENT. I KNOW THAT IT IS SO RARE
FOR GIRLS WHO GREW UP LIKE I DID AND WHO ARE GROWING UP
LIKE I DID TO HAVE ACCESS TO THE THINGS THAT
I’VE BEEN GIVEN. AND SO, AS A
BLACK TRANS WOMAN, I MAY BE THE ONLY WHEN
I ENTER THESE SPACES, BUT THE GOAL IS TO ENSURE
THAT WHEN I LEAVE, YOU KNOW, OTHER PEOPLE CAN COME IN. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
ALL THREE OF MY THREE GUESTS IDENTIFY STRONGLY WITH THEIR
AFRICAN AMERICAN HERITAGE. EACH SEES THEIR LIFE AND
THEIR LIFE’S WORK, IN THE CONTEXT OF
SOMETHING MUCH LARGER: THE LONG UNFOLDING
HISTORY OF BLACK AMERICA. NOW, WE’RE GOING TO SEE
HOW THEIR OWN ANCESTORS’ EXPERIENCES FIT INTO THAT
HISTORY, OR IN SOME CASES, HOW THEIR STORIES
CHALLENGE IT. ARE YOU WORRIED ABOUT THIS? AVA DUVERNAY: I’M
VERY WORRIED ABOUT THIS. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: WE
STARTED WITH AVA DUVERNAY. AVA WAS RAISED BY HER
MOTHER AND STEP-FATHER, A MAN NAMED MURRAY MAYE. MURRAY GREW UP IN
LOWNDES COUNTY ALABAMA, A FOCAL POINT OF THE
STRUGGLE FOR VOTING RIGHTS IN THE 1960S. AVA TOLD ME THAT HE HAD
A SIGNIFICANT INFLUENCE ON HER FILM “SELMA.” AVA DUVERNAY: I SCOUTED
THAT MOVIE WITH HIM. WE WENT OUT AND WE SCOUTED
THE MOVIE TOGETHER, AND HE WOULD TALK TO ME ABOUT
THE LEGACY OF THE PLACE. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
DO YOU THINK THAT “SELMA” WAS A LOVE LETTER FOR MURRAY MAYE? AVA DUVERNAY:
OH, FOR SURE, FOR SURE. YEAH, I MADE IT FOR HIM. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: MURRAY
PASSED AWAY SUDDENLY IN 2016. AVA IS STILL STRUGGLING
WITH HIS LOSS. IN FACT, ONE OF THE REASONS
SHE WANTED TO BE IN OUR SERIES WAS TO HONOR HIS MEMORY. AVA DUVERNAY: MY DADDY. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: HAVE
YOU SEEN THAT PICTURE BEFORE? AVA DUVERNAY: NO. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
THAT’S MURRAY MAYE IN 1971. AVA DUVERNAY: WHERE DID
YOU GET THIS PICTURE? WOW, MY FAVORITE GUY
IN THE WHOLE WORLD. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: WHAT
INFLUENCE DID HE HAVE ON YOU, WHEN YOU WERE GROWING UP? AVA DUVERNAY: BIG, JUST A
VERY KIND, QUIET PERSON. YOU KNOW, JUST INCREDIBLY,
LOVING, LOVING PERSON, SO, HE TAUGHT ME, HE
WAS AN ENTREPRENEUR. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: UH-HUH. AVA DUVERNAY: SO, HE HAD A
SMALL CARPET AND FLOORING BUSINESS, AND SO HE TAUGHT
ME A LOT ABOUT INDEPENDENCE, YOU KNOW, GETTING UP IN THE
MORNING AND GOING TO WORK, YOU KNOW, EVEN WHEN
IT’S DARK OUTSIDE. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: UH-HUH. AVA DUVERNAY: AND WHEN I LOOK
BACK AND TRY TO TRACE WHERE I GOT MY INDEPENDENT SPIRIT FROM
AND MY ENTREPRENEURIAL SPIRIT, YOU KNOW, NOT BEING
SATISFIED WORKING FOR PEOPLE, NOT JUST BEING
SATISFIED MAKING FILMS, WANTING TO DISTRIBUTE FILMS,
WANTING TO PRODUCE MY OWN FILMS, WANTING TO
FINANCE MY OWN FILMS, THAT REALLY COMES FROM
MY POPS, MURRAY MAYE. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: HMM, WELL,
IT WAS AN EFFECTIVE LESSON. I MEAN HE WAS A GREAT
TEACHER, BECAUSE LOOK AT YOU. AVA DUVERNAY: HE WAS,
YEAH, HE WAS, THE BEST. (CRYING). THE BEST. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: AVA
WANTED TO LEARN ALL SHE COULD ABOUT MURRAY’S FAMILY, BUT WE
QUICKLY HIT A WALL: SLAVERY. SLAVES WERE RARELY RECORDED
BY NAME IN OFFICIAL GOVERNMENT DOCUMENTS, SO TO TRACE AN
AFRICAN AMERICAN FAMILY BACK INTO THE SLAVE PERIOD, YOU
NEED TO FIND THEM LISTED AMONG THE PAPERS OF THEIR OWNERS. THIS CAN BE EXTRAORDINARILY
DIFFICULT AND ON ALMOST EVERY BRANCH OF MURRAY’S FAMILY
TREE, IT PROVED IMPOSSIBLE. THERE WAS JUST ONE EXCEPTION. YOU’RE LOOKING AT THE 1880
CENSUS OF HICKORY HILL, IN ALABAMA. AVA DUVERNAY: “PINKNEY BRUNER,
46, MARGARET BRUNER, 45, AND FRANCES BRUNER, 13.” HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: THAT’S
MURRAY’S GREAT-GRANDMOTHER, FRANCES BRUNER. SHE’S LIVING WITH HER PARENTS,
PINKNEY AND MARGARET BRUNER AND YOU’VE NEVER
HEARD OF THEM? AVA DUVERNAY: NO. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
PINKNEY BRUNER WAS MURRAY’S GREAT-GREAT-GRANDFATHER. HE WAS BORN AROUND 1835,
IN THE HEART OF THE SLAVE ERA. AND WHEN WE TRIED TO IDENTIFY
HIS OWNER, WE GOT LUCKY, THE 1850 CENSUS CONTAINS A
“SLAVE SCHEDULE” FOR TWO MEN, POSSIBLY BROTHERS, NAMED
JOHN AND CHARLES BRUNER, WHO LIVED IN LOWNDES
COUNTY, ALABAMA. THOUGH THERE ARE NO NAMES OF
THE ENSLAVED PEOPLE LISTED ON THE SCHEDULE, IT DOES DESCRIBE
THE BRUNER SLAVES BY AGE, GENDER, AND COLOR. AVA DUVERNAY: “14, M, B.” HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: THAT
INDICATES THAT THE BRUNERS OWNED A 14-YEAR-OLD SLAVE
WHO WAS MALE AND BLACK, AND WE KNOW THAT PINKNEY
WOULD’VE BEEN ABOUT 15 YEARS OLD IN 1850,
SO THAT MAY BE PINKNEY. AVA DUVERNAY: LOWNDES COUNTY,
LOWNDES SLAVE INHABITANTS, SAME LAST NAME, AGE, MALE. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: MALE,
AND ONE YEAR DIFFERENCE, SO. AVA DUVERNAY:
YES, IT’S PROBABLY HIM. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
WHAT’S IT LIKE TO SEE THAT? AVA DUVERNAY: IT FEELS
LIKE GHOSTS ON PAPER. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: YEAH. AVA DUVERNAY:
A KIND OF HAUNTING. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: WE
CAN’T BE CERTAIN THAT THIS IS MURRAY’S ANCESTOR. BUT WE UNCOVERED SOMETHING
THAT MADE IT SEEM VERY LIKELY, A LABOR CONTRACT THAT PINKNEY
BRUNER SIGNED WITH JOHN BRUNER JUST MONTHS AFTER
THE CIVIL WAR ENDED. CONTRACTS LIKE THESE WERE
COMMON IN THE EARLY DAYS OF RECONSTRUCTION, WHEN MANY
NEWLY-FREED AFRICAN AMERICANS WENT TO WORK FOR
WHITE FARMERS, OFTEN THE SAME FARMERS
WHO HAD OWNED THEM BEFORE THE CIVIL WAR. SO THIS IS FURTHER EVIDENCE
THAT PINCKNEY WAS PROBABLY OWNED BY THE BRUNER FAMILY. MORE IMPORTANTLY: IT SHOWS US
THE CHALLENGES THAT PINKNEY FACED AFTER EMANCIPATION. BECAUSE, UNSURPRISINGLY, THE
TERMS OF THIS CONTRACT WERE NOT FAVORABLE TO HIM… AVA DUVERNAY: “TO WIT,
I AGREE TO CLOTHE, FEED, FURNISH HOUSE-ROOM FREE, ALSO
TO LET THEM HAVE THEIR PATCHES OF CORN AND RICE THAT
THEY HAVE IN CULTIVATION FOR THEIR SERVICES
FOR THE PRESENT YEAR.” SO THIS IS A DOCUMENT SAYING
THAT WHAT I WILL GIVE YOU FOR CONTINUING TO WORK SO THAT I CAN
PROFIT IS I WILL CLOTHE YOU, FEED YOU, GIVE
YOU A PLACE TO STAY, AND YOU CAN EAT, YOU CAN
HAVE THE CORN AND THE RICE. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: UH-HUH. AVA DUVERNAY: NO MONEY IN
HAND, NO WEALTH BUILDING, YOU WILL NOT OWN ANYTHING, JUST CONTINUING WHAT
YOU WERE DOING BEFORE. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: WHAT
WAS A SLAVE GOING TO DO? A SLAVE HAD NO MONEY. AVA DUVERNAY: NO OPTIONS. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
JUST GOT A LEGAL NAME. AVA DUVERNAY:
WHERE YOU GONNA GO? HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
WHERE YOU GONNA GO? AVA DUVERNAY:
WHAT YOU GONNA DO? HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
PINKNEY BRUNER WOULD SPEND THE REST OF HIS LIFE FARMING
IN LOWNDES COUNTY. BUT THAT ISN’T ALL
THAT HE DID, IN 1867, PINKNEY BECAME A
REGISTERED VOTER, LIKELY THE FIRST PERSON
IN HIS FAMILY TO DO SO. AVA DUVERNAY: WOW,
THAT’S INCREDIBLE. THAT’S GREAT,
THAT’S A BIG DEAL. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: WHAT DO
YOU THINK THE ACT OF VOTING MEANT TO PINKNEY? AVA DUVERNAY: I JUST, IT’S
SUCH A BIG DEAL BECAUSE I’VE STUDIED IT SO MUCH FOR
BOTH SELMA AND 13TH, AND SELMA BASICALLY,
JUST THE ODDS THAT MY FATHER IS FROM THE PLACE,
THIS IS THE BIRTH, THIS IS THE EPICENTER
OF THAT FIGHT. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: OH, YEAH. AVA DUVERNAY: AND FOR MY OWN
FAMILY TO HAVE PARTICIPATED IN IT, IN THIS WAY, SO DEEPLY. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: WHAT
DO YOU THINK THIS WOULD HAVE MEANT TO MURRAY, TO SEE THIS? AVA DUVERNAY: OH MY GOSH. HE WOULD JUST BE, THIS IS
HIS THING, PROUD, FASCINATED, YOU KNOW, OBSESSED WITH IT,
WHICH I NOW AM. YEAH, I KNOW MY DAD. YEAH, THIS WOULD’VE
MEANT A LOT. I KNOW IT DOES MEAN A LOT. YEAH, WOW. TA-NEHISI COATES: I DID NOT
DIE IN MY AIMLESS YOUTH, I DID NOT PERISH IN THE
AGONY OF NOT KNOWING, I WAS NOT JAILED. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
LIKE AVA, TA-NEHISI COATES WAS DEEPLY INFLUENCED
BY THE MAN WHO RAISED HIM, HIS FATHER, PAUL COATES, WAS AN ARDENT BLACK
NATIONALIST AND THE SHAPING FORCE IN HIS SON’S
INTELLECTUAL DEVELOPMENT, THOUGH GROWING UP, TA-NEHISI
WAS NOT ALWAYS SURE THAT HE WANTED TO BE SHAPED. TA-NEHISI COATES:
I WAS THE SIXTH CHILD, BUT I WAS THE FIRST ONE
THAT HE HAD WHO COULD BE RAISED ACCORDING
TO HIS CODES, THINGS THAT HE WANTED
DONE, YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN, TO MAKE A CHILD AS, HE,
I THINK, PUT IT AT THE TIME, “CONSCIOUS.” HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
SO, YOU WERE AN EXPERIMENT. TA-NEHISI COATES:
I WAS, I WAS, IT’S SO WEIRD. AND I THINK ABOUT THAT ALL
THE TIME YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN, BECAUSE THERE WERE THINGS
THAT I LIKE ABOUT IT, THINGS I DON’T LIKE ABOUT IT. YOU KNOW, WE DIDN’T
CELEBRATE CHRISTMAS. WE FASTED ON THANKSGIVING. UH, WE DIDN’T CELEBRATE ANY
HOLIDAYS EXCEPT BIRTHDAYS, HALLOWEEN, NONE OF THAT. WE DIDN’T DO ANY OF THAT. WE DIDN’T EVEN CELEBRATE
KWANZA, THERE WASN’T NO FAKE. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
YOU DIDN’T CELEBRATE KWANZA? TA-NEHISI COATES: NO,
THERE WAS NO FAKE CHRISTMAS. NO, IT WAS, THERE
WASN’T NONE OF THAT. THERE WASN’T NONE OF THAT. THERE WAS WORK. THERE WAS A LOT OF
WORK IN THAT HOUSE. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
SO TELL ME, HOW ARE YOU MOST
LIKE YOUR FATHER? TA-NEHISI COATES: I THINK
HIS SKEPTICISM OF THE WORLD. I THINK THAT’S PROBABLY
THE BIGGEST THING THAT I GOT FROM HIM. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: PAUL’S
SKEPTICISM WAS HARD-EARNED. BORN IN 1946, IN A
NEARLY-ALL-BLACK NEIGHBORHOOD IN PHILADELPHIA, PAUL GREW UP
IN POVERTY, AS A YOUNG MAN, HE JOINED THE ARMY AND WAS
SENT TO VIETNAM AND SERVED IN AN ALMOST ALL-WHITE UNIT. THAT EXPERIENCE
TRANSFORMED HIM, HEIGHTENING HIS AWARENESS
OF THE PROBLEMS WITH RACE RELATIONS BACK HOME
IN THE UNITED STATES. TA-NEHISI COATES: HE
CONSIDERED HIMSELF TO BE AN AMERICAN WHEN HE WENT. I THINK THAT ONE OF THE
THINGS THAT HAPPENS IS, UM, YOU GO OFF TO
WAR, AND YOU KNOW, YOU ARE FACED WITH THE FACT
OF GIVING YOUR LIFE FOR YOUR COUNTRY, AND IT PUTS IN
SHARP RELIEF, YOU KNOW, WHAT YOUR COUNTRY
WOULD DO FOR YOU. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
PAUL RETURNED FROM VIETNAM, MOVED TO BALTIMORE AND SOON
JOINED THE BLACK PANTHER PARTY. ♪ GROUP: THE
REVOLUTION HAS COME. ♪ ♪ TIME TO PICK UP THE GUN. ♪♪ HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: THE
PANTHERS WERE ADVOCATING RADICAL WAYS TO ADDRESS
AMERICA’S RACIAL PROBLEMS, INCLUDING ARMED RESISTANCE. MAN: WE MUST ARM OURSELVES, WE HAVE TO PUT A SHOTGUN
AT EVERY DOOR ACROSS THIS RACIST NATION. EVERY BLACK MAN HAS GOT
TO GET YOURSELVES ARMED SO WE CAN HAVE THE
POWER IN OUR HANDS. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
PAUL WOULD SPEND TWO YEARS WITH THE PANTHERS, ULTIMATELY SERVING AS A
DEFENSE CAPTAIN AND TA-NEHISI GREW UP HEARING STORIES ABOUT
HIS FATHER’S ACTIVIST DAYS, BUT HE’D NEVER SEEN THE
EVIDENCE OF JUST HOW RADICAL HIS FATHER WAS… WE FOUND IT, IN THE
FILES OF THE FBI! TA-NEHISI COATES:
IT’S HILARIOUS, I SHOULDN’T BE LAUGHING,
I’M SORRY, DAD, I SHOULDN’T BE LAUGHING,
IT’S NOT FUNNY. LOOK AT THAT AFRO, WHEW. UNCOMBED, UNKEMPT, WHEW. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: THERE
ARE VERY FEW TIMES I’VE BEEN ABLE TO SHOW A GUEST
THEIR FATHER’S MUG SHOT. TA-NEHISI COATES: RIGHT, RIGHT,
RIGHT, RIGHT, RIGHT, WOW. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
ON APRIL 30, 1970, THE BALTIMORE POLICE
APPREHENDED PAUL AND THREE OTHER BLACK PANTHERS, AS THEY
WERE REMOVING GUNS FROM A STASH HOUSE, THIS WAS ONE OF
AT LEAST FIVE TIMES THAT PAUL WAS ARRESTED DURING HIS
YEARS WITH THE PANTHERS. AND HE DIDN’T ALWAYS
SURRENDER PEACEFULLY… TA-NEHISI COATES:
“WILLIAM P. COATES POINTED A RIFLE,
A 7MM FULLY LOADED AT US. COATES WAS COMMANDED THREE
TIMES TO LOWER THE WEAPON, AND ONLY AFTER DETECTIVE
SERGEANT LIVINGSTON LEVELED A SHOTGUN DID COATES COMPLY…” HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
CAN I ASK YOU WHAT IT’S LIKE TO READ THAT? TA-NEHISI COATES: IT WEIRDLY
ACCORDS WITH WHAT I KNOW OF MY DAD. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: REALLY? TA-NEHISI COATES: I’M NOT
READING THIS LIKE I’M SHOCKED. YEAH, I MEAN, SOMEBODY
SAID, “YOUR DAD DID THIS.” I’D SAY, “THAT SEEMS LEGIT.” HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: THANK
GOD HE LOWERED THAT SHOTGUN. TA-NEHISI COATES:
YEAH, SERIOUSLY, WE WOULDN’T BE HERE TALKING. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: YEAH,
WOULDN’T BE HERE AT ALL. AFTER LEAVING THE PANTHERS,
PAUL WORKED IN THE LIBRARY AT HOWARD UNIVERSITY AND FILLED
THE FAMILY HOME WITH BOOKS ABOUT BLACK HISTORY,
HELPING INSPIRE TA-NEHISI TO BECOME A WRITER. BUT WHEN IT CAME TO HIS
OWN FAMILY’S HISTORY, PAUL PASSED DOWN VERY
LITTLE INFORMATION. LEAVING HIS SON WITH SOME
VERY FUNDAMENTAL QUESTIONS ABOUT HIS ROOTS. TA-NEHISI COATES: WELL,
I ALWAYS THOUGHT IT WAS, LIKE, WEIRD THAT MY FATHER’S
FAMILY WAS FROM PHILADELPHIA. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: SURE. TA-NEHISI COATES: I MEAN,
OBVIOUSLY THERE’S A FREE BLACK POPULATION THAT WAS THERE,
BUT I LONG SUSPECTED THAT, YOU KNOW, THEY HAD GOTTEN
THERE FROM SOMEWHERE ELSE, YOU KNOW, AND YOU KNOW, ALWAYS
WANTED TO KNOW WHERE ELSE. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: THE
ANSWER TO TA-NEHISI’S QUESTION LAY IN THE 1910 CENSUS,
WHERE WE FOUND AN ENTRY FOR HIS GREAT-GRANDPARENTS,
GEORGE AND MORA CRYOR, LISTING THEIR
PLACE OF BIRTH… TA-NEHISI, TAKE A
LOOK AT THAT MAP. YOU SEE THOSE DOTS? EVERY BRANCH OF YOUR FATHER’S
TREE STRETCHES INTO VIRGINIA, NOT JUST THE CRYORS, BUT EVERY
OTHER LINE WE CAN IDENTIFY AND MOST OF THEM GO JUST
TO THOSE TWO COUNTIES, SUSSEX COUNTY AND
PRINCE GEORGE COUNTY. HAVE YOU BEEN TO THOSE PLACES? TA-NEHISI COATES: NEVER. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
YOU THINK OF YOURSELF AS A CITY BOY. TA-NEHISI COATES: BASICALLY,
YEAH, THAT’S WHAT I WAS. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: WELL,
YOU ARE A DEEP COUNTRY BOY. BEFORE YOUR FAMILY
MOVED TO THE CITY. TA-NEHISI COATES:
EVIDENTLY SO, EVIDENTLY SO. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
TA-NEHISI’S ROOTS LIE IN WHAT WAS ONCE A CENTER
OF AMERICAN SLAVERY, LESS THAN FORTY
MILES FROM RICHMOND, THE CAPITAL OF
THE CONFEDERACY, A PLACE WHERE AFRICAN AMERICAN
FAMILIES WERE HELD FOR GENERATIONS IN BONDAGE. INDEED, PRINCE GEORGE COUNTY,
HELD MORE SLAVES THAN FREE PEOPLE IN THE DECADES
LEADING UP TO THE CIVIL WAR. TA-NEHISI COATES: SO,
THE MAJORITY OF PEOPLE ARE ENSLAVED IN THAT COUNTY? HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
YEAH, THERE WERE ROUGHLY 5,000 SLAVES AND A TOTAL
POPULATION OF ABOUT 8,000. TA-NEHISI COATES: WHEW,
THAT’S SO DISGUSTING. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: YEAH. TA-NEHISI COATES: YEAH,
THAT IS, THAT, YOU KNOW, I KNOW I SHOULD BE MORE
FORGIVING, BUT I MEAN, YOU KNOW, YOU LIVE IN A
COUNTY WHERE THE MAJORITY OF PEOPLE THERE
ARE LIVING IN CHAINS. THAT IS INCREDIBLE TO ME. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: DESPITE
THE OVERWHELMING NUMBERS, AND THE DEARTH OF RECORDS, WE
WERE ABLE TO IDENTIFY A NUMBER OF TA-NEHISI’S ENSLAVED
ANCESTORS BY NAME. AMONG THE OLDEST WAS HIS
FOURTH GREAT-GRANDMOTHER, LAVINIA CRYOR. LAVINIA WAS BORN IN VIRGINIA
AROUND 1810 AND DIED SOMETIME AFTER 1870. WHICH MEANS THAT SHE
ACTUALLY WITNESSED AMERICA’S TRANSITION FROM
SLAVERY TO FREEDOM. I KNOW YOU’VE THOUGHT
ABOUT SLAVERY, BUT HAVE YOU THOUGHT ABOUT THE
LIVES OF YOUR ANCESTORS WHO WERE SLAVES, PEOPLE FROM
WHOM YOU INHERITED DNA. TA-NEHISI COATES: NO, NO, I
MEAN, I’VE THOUGHT ABOUT IT, AN ANCESTOR, IN THE MOST
BROADEST SENSE OF THE WORD. YOU KNOW, UM, I COULDN’T
EVEN PLACE IT GEOGRAPHICALLY, YOU KNOW? UM, SO NO, I REALLY DIDN’T
HAVE THE CAPACITY TO THINK ABOUT IT, YOU KNOW, IN
TERMS OF FLESH AND BLOOD. I MEAN, I KNEW WHO I WAS
AND I KNEW WHAT I WAS, AND I KNEW THAT I
PROBABLY WASN’T, YOU KNOW, MY FATHER’S PEOPLE WERE
PROBABLY NOT, YOU KNOW, RECENT IMMIGRANTS. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
RIGHT, RIGHT. TA-NEHISI COATES:
YEAH, SO, UM. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
YOU DIDN’T COME THROUGH ELLIS ISLAND. TA-NEHISI COATES: I KNEW THAT,
I KNEW THAT, YEAH. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
WHAT’S IT LIKE TO LEARN THIS? TA-NEHISI COATES:
THAT’S SIGNIFICANT. TO BE SOMEBODY BORN IN 1810,
AND TO SEE THAT END, UH, YOU KNOW, ENSLAVEMENT,
I MEAN, THAT IS, WHEW. THAT’S INCREDIBLE. SO, YOU’RE BORN IN 1810, YOU’RE BORN
INTO A YOUNG COUNTRY. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: OH, YEAH. TA-NEHISI COATES: I MEAN,
WITH A REALLY, I MEAN, YOU’RE BORN ALMOST
INTO AN IDEA, WHEW. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
MM, YEAH, ABSOLUTELY. TA-NEHISI COATES: I MEAN,
SO THOMAS JEFFERSON IS STILL ALIVE, UH, I THINK. I THINK I’M GETTING
THAT RIGHT, 18… HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: OH,
YEAH. HE DIDN’T DIE TILL 1826. TA-NEHISI COATES: THAT’S
RIGHT, THAT’S RIGHT. SO, YOU KNOW, LIKE,
WITHIN FOUNDER’S TIME. I MEAN, THAT’S SOMETHING. THAT’S SOMETHING, WOW. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
LIKE AVA AND TA-NEHISI, JANET MOCK GREW UP
KNOWING LITTLE ABOUT HER AFRICAN AMERICAN ROOTS. HER PARENTS SPLIT UP WHEN
SHE WAS JUST FOUR YEARS OLD, AND FOR SEVERAL YEARS, SHE WAS
RAISED BY HER HAWAIIAN MOTHER. WHEN SHE FINALLY BEGAN
LIVING WITH HER FATHER AGAIN, THEIR RELATIONSHIP WAS
STRAINED BECAUSE OF HIS UNWILLINGNESS TO
ACCEPT HER IDENTITY. JANET MOCK: MY FATHER WOULD
PROBABLY SAY THAT I WAS HIS GREATEST CHALLENGE. HE BEGAN GIVING ME A LOT OF
SPEECHES ABOUT HOW I SHOULD ACT, WHAT BOYS DO IN THE
WORLD, WHAT GIRLS DO, AND HOW I SHOULD NOT DO THAT. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: YEAH,
WELL, THAT OBVIOUSLY WORKED. JANET MOCK: YEAH, THAT
WORKED REALLY, REALLY WELL, SO I THINK THAT I WAS MY
FATHER’S GREATEST CHALLENGE, BECAUSE HE EPICALLY FAILED,
IN THAT, IN THAT, UM, IN THAT ARENA. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: JANET
AND HER FATHER HAVE RECONCILED BUT EVEN SO, SHE
STILL HAS MANY QUESTIONS ABOUT HIS ROOTS. SHE KNEW HIS PARENTS,
BUT NOT HIS GRANDPARENTS. AND SHE HAS NO KNOWLEDGE AT
ALL OF HIS DEEPER ANCESTRY. WE TRACED IT BACK TO HER
GREAT-GREAT-GRANDFATHER, A MAN NAMED HAROLD MOCK, BORN IN LOUISIANA
IN THE EARLY 1880S. HIS FATHER, JANET’S
THIRD GREAT-GRANDFATHER, WAS NAMED “HENRY MOCK.” HENRY WAS BORN AROUND 1847. HAVE YOU EVER HEARD OF
ANY OF THESE PEOPLE? JANET MOCK: NO,
THIS IS ALREADY A LOT. MORE THAN I KNEW
WHEN I CAME IN. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
I MEAN, IT’S OVER 150 YEARS, A CENTURY AND A HALF OF ROOTS. WHAT’S IT LIKE TO SEE
THIS ALL LAID OUT? JANET MOCK: THAT MOCK
WAS A CONSISTENT NAME. I ALWAYS WAS CURIOUS, BECAUSE
IT IS MY LAST NAME OF COURSE, WHICH I INHERITED
FROM MY, MY FATHER. YOU KNOW, PEOPLE
HAVE ALWAYS ASKED ME, A LOT OF CHINESE PEOPLE
HAVE THAT LAST NAME, SO THEY’RE LIKE, “IS THERE,
YOU KNOW,” AND I WAS LIKE, “I DON’T THINK THAT THERE’S
ANYTHING,” SO, YOU KNOW, HOW BLACK FOLK CHOSE
OR GRABBED NAMES, I DIDN’T KNOW WHAT THE
ROOT OR REGION WAS. SO, TO SEE THAT IT WENT
ALL THE WAY UP IN THIS WAY. I DIDN’T THINK
THIS WAS POSSIBLE. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
LISTEN TO THIS, YOUR THIRD-GREAT-GRANDFATHER, HENRY MOCK,
WAS BORN AROUND 1847, WHICH MEANS HE WAS
LIKELY BORN INTO SLAVERY. JANET MOCK: I KNEW
THAT THAT WAS COMING, BUT NOW I’M PROCESSING. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
YEAH, RIGHT. TO LEARN MORE ABOUT HENRY,
WE BEGAN TO SEARCH RECORDS IN FRANKLIN PARISH,
LOUISIANA, WHERE HE DIED. WE DISCOVERED THAT HE
SOMETIMES WENT BY THE NAME “HAL” AND THAT HE MAY
HAVE BEEN BORN IN ALABAMA OR GEORGIA AND THEN
WE FOUND SOMETHING EVEN MORE SIGNIFICANT. JANET, THIS IS A PAGE ATTACHED
TO THE 1860 CENSUS FOR FRANKLIN PARISH, LOUISIANA. IT’S CALLED A SLAVE SCHEDULE. JANET MOCK: “NAME OF
SLAVE OWNER: WILLIAM T. MOCK. DESCRIPTION OF SLAVE:
AGE 14, SEX: MALE. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
IT MEANS THAT A MAN NAMED WILLIAM T. MOCK OWNED
A 14-YEAR-OLD BOY IN 1860. SO, THAT BOY WOULD HAVE
BEEN BORN AROUND 1846, WHICH IS AROUND WHEN
YOUR THIRD-GREAT-GRANDFATHER WAS BORN. JANET MOCK: IT LOOKS
LIKE HE HAD FIVE SLAVES. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: SO, OUR
GENEALOGIST BELIEVED THAT YOU ARE LOOKING AT THE
REGISTRY OF YOUR ANCESTOR, WHO WAS A PIECE OF PROPERTY
WITH NO NAME, ALONG WITH, AS YOU SAY, FIVE OTHER
HUMAN BEINGS WHO WERE ENSLAVED BY WILLIAM T. MOCK. JANET MOCK: WELL, THAT’S
INTERESTING TO SEE WHERE “MOCK” CAME FROM, AND THEN MY
ATTACHMENT TO THAT LAST NAME, THAT IT GOES ALL THE WAY
THROUGH ME AND MY BROTHER, AND MY BROTHER WHO
NOW HAS A CHILD, AND THAT WE KNOW
THAT IT GOES BACK TO A WHITE MAN NAMED WILLIAM. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
WHAT’S IT LIKE TO SEE THIS? CAUSE THERE ARE A LOT OF
PEOPLE WHO SIT WHERE YOU SIT, AND I CAN’T DO THIS. WE CAN’T GIVE THEM
THIS INFORMATION. JANET MOCK: WELL,
THERE’S A RECONCILIATION FOR ME PERSONALLY. YOU KNOW, I CHOSE
MY FIRST NAME. I CHOSE JANET, UM, AND
TO SEE THAT THEN, YOU KNOW, MY, MY, UM,
GREAT-GREAT-GREAT-GRANDFATHER CHOSE MOCK. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: RIGHT. JANET MOCK: HE COULD HAVE
CHANGED IT TO SOMETHING ELSE IF HE WANTED TO. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
THAT’S RIGHT. JANET MOCK:
HE CHOSE THAT NAME. AND SO, FOR ME, THERE IS A
RECONCILIATION BETWEEN THOSE PARTS OF MYSELF, UM, THE
IDENTITY THAT IS MINE AND THE IDENTITY THAT IS MY FAMILY’S. UM, AND SO, THERE’S A PEACE
THERE THAT COMES FROM THAT. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
YEAH, YEAH, WE HAD ALREADY LEARNED HOW
THE ANCESTORS OF AVA DUVERNAY’S STEP-FATHER ENDURED GENERATIONS
OF SLAVERY IN ALABAMA. NOW WE TURNED TO AVA’S
BIOLOGICAL FATHER AND UNCOVERED A VERY
DIFFERENT KIND OF STORY, A STORY ABOUT PEOPLE WHO
NEVER ENDURED SLAVERY, AT ALL. IT BEGAN IN NEW ORLEANS,
WHERE WE WERE ABLE TO TRACE AVA BACK TO HER
FOURTH GREAT-GRANDPARENTS: HENRY AND
MAGADELINE GLAUDIN, THEY WERE BORN FREE
IN THE LATE 1700S. WHAT’S MORE, WE DISCOVERED
THAT HENRY WAS BORN IN A MOST SURPRISING PLACE. AVA DUVERNAY: SAINT DOMINGUE. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
YOU EVER HEAR OF THAT ISLAND? AVA DUVERNAY: NO. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
IT BECAME THE REPUBLIC OF HAITI. AVA DUVERNAY: OH, WOW,
IS THAT RIGHT, WOW. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
DID YOU HAVE ANY IDEA, IN YOUR WILDEST IMAGINATION? AVA DUVERNAY:
NO, I HAD NO IDEA. IT’S JUST FASCINATING
THAT YOUR WHOLE HISTORY IS JUST BLANK. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
TOTALLY BLANK. AVA DUVERNAY: YOU JUST DON’T,
WE JUST DON’T KNOW. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
I COULDN’T WAIT TO GET YOU IN THIS CHAIR, BECAUSE FOR A
BLACK PERSON, YOUR ROOTS, AS DESCENDED FROM FREE PEOPLE,
ARE EXTRAORDINARILY DEEP. AVA DUVERNAY: RARE. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
EXTRAORDINARILY DEEP. AVA DUVERNAY: HOW DID THEY
COME TO BE FREE IN HAITI? HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
THAT’S WHAT THE LORD SENT ME HERE TO TELL YOU. AVA DUVERNAY: OKAY, I’M
GLAD YOU HAVE THE ANSWERS. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: THE
ANSWERS LAY IN THE ARCHIVES OF ST. LOUIS CATHEDRAL
IN NEW ORLEANS, WHICH CONTAIN THE BAPTISMAL
RECORDS OF SEVERAL OF HENRY AND MAGADELINE’S CHILDREN. AS WE COMBED THROUGH
THESE RECORDS, WE NOTICED SOMETHING
UNUSUAL ABOUT AVA’S FOURTH GREAT GRANDPARENTS. YOUR FOURTH
GREAT-GRANDMOTHER, MAGDALEINE, IS LISTED AS A FREE MULATA,
BUT THERE’S NO COLOR INDICATED FOR YOUR FOURTH
GREAT-GRANDFATHER, HENRY. DO YOU KNOW WHAT THAT MEANS? AVA DUVERNAY: HE’S WHITE. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: VERY
GOOD, HENRY WAS A WHITE MAN. AVA DUVERNAY: OKAY, OKAY. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
THERE, THERE YOU GO. AVA DUVERNAY: GOT YOU. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
THAT’S RIGHT, THE QUEEN OF BLACK DOCUMENTARY FILM. AVA DUVERNAY:
YOU KNEW IT WAS GOING TO BE IN THERE SOMEWHERE. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: YEAH. AVA DUVERNAY:
I KNEW IT WAS COMING. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: MOST OF
US KNOW IT’S THERE SOMEWHERE, BUT WE KNOW WHERE,
IN YOUR CASE, AND WHO. AVA DUVERNAY: YEAH, YEAH. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: AVA’S
FOURTH GREAT-GRANDFATHER, HENRY GLAUDIN, WAS BORN ON
THE ISLAND OF SAINT DOMINGUE IN NOVEMBER OF 1779. AT THAT TIME, THE ISLAND
WAS A FRENCH COLONY AND IT WAS A CENTER OF SLAVERY
IN THE NEW WORLD. AND EVIDENCE SHOWS THAT
HENRY’S FATHER, A FRENCHMAN, ALSO NAMED HENRY, PLAYED
A ROLE IN THE SLAVE ECONOMY. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
YOU’RE LOOKING AT AN AD THAT WAS PUBLISHED ON MAY 30, 1780, IN A SAINT DOMINGUE NEWSPAPER.
CAN YOU READ THE TRANSLATION? AVA DUVERNAY:
“A NEGRO CONGO, NAMED TONI, STAMPED P.BINET AND ABOVE IT
H.GLAUDIN, FISHERMAN BY TRADE, RAN AWAY THREE WEEKS AGO. THOSE WHO RECOGNIZE HIM ARE
REQUESTED TO ARREST HIM…” HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
NOW, THAT AD WAS PLACED BY HENRY GLAUDIN, SR. AVA,
YOUR FIFTH GREAT-GRANDFATHER WAS A SLAVE OWNER. AVA DUVERNAY: GOT IT. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
READ THE FIRST LINE AGAIN, A NEGRO CONGO… AVA DUVERNAY: “NAMED TONI,
STAMPED P.BINET AND ABOVE IT H.GLAUDIN.” HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
RIGHT, STAMPED. AVA DUVERNAY:
YEAH, UH-HUH, UH-HUH. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: STAMPED,
THIS TELLS US THAT HENRY BRANDED HIS NAME ON HIS SLAVE. AVA DUVERNAY: MM, MM, VICIOUS. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: AND
THIS ISN’T THE ONLY AD FOR A RUNAWAY SLAVE THAT WAS
PLACED BY YOUR ANCESTOR. WE FOUND THREE OTHERS. SO, AS FAR AS WE KNOW, HENRY
OWNED AT LEAST FOUR SLAVES, AND POSSIBLY MORE. AVA DUVERNAY: MM,
MM AND BRANDED THEM. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: AND THEN
HIS SON MADE THE DECISION TO HAVE A CHILD WITH
A BLACK WOMAN. AVA DUVERNAY:
YEAH, FASCINATING. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: AVA
WONDERED HOW HER FAMILY GOT FROM HAITI TO NEW ORLEANS,
THE STORY IS SO AMAZING THAT IT COULD BE HER NEXT MOVIE! IN AUGUST OF 1791,
ENSLAVED BLACK PEOPLE ON SAINT DOMINGUE’S ROSE UP
AGAINST THEIR MASTERS, LAUNCHING WHAT WE NOW CALL
THE HAITIAN REVOLUTION, THE LARGEST AND BLOODIEST
SLAVE REVOLT EVER STAGED IN THE AMERICAS AND THE MOST
SUCCESSFUL SLAVE REVOLT IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD. FIGHTING WOULD LAST FOR MORE
THAN A DECADE BUT BY 1803, THE OUTCOME WAS CLEAR, AS
A FORMIDABLE BLACK ARMY, LED BY THEIR BRILLIANT GENERAL
NAMED JEAN-JACQUES DESSALINES, MARCHED ACROSS THE COUNTRY, EXTERMINATING
THE REMAINING FRENCH. AS THEY NEARED THE
PORT OF JEREMIE, WHERE AVA’S ANCESTORS
WERE LIVING, HER FOURTH GREAT-GRANDFATHER,
HENRY GLAUDIN, MADE A DESPERATE DECISION,
HE AND HIS FAMILY, FLED BY BOAT TO CUBA… AVA DUVERNAY: “THE CITY OF
JEREMIE FINDS ITSELF ON THE VERGE OF BEING ATTACKED AND
SACKED BY THE REBEL BLACKS. MY PASSENGERS APPEAL TO
YOUR RIGHTEOUSNESS SO THAT YOU MIGHT ACT TO ALLOW ME
TO SAIL UP TO THE PORT. HENRY GLAUDIN.” HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: THAT
IS A PETITION FOR ASYLUM, ACTUALLY WRITTEN, BY YOUR
FOURTH GREAT-GRANDFATHER. AND HE WROTE THAT TO THE
GOVERNOR OF CUBA. SO, WHEN THE REBELS
ADVANCED ON JEREMIE, YOUR ANCESTOR SPLIT. AVA DUVERNAY: AH, RIGHT. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
AND HE FLED TO CUBA. AVA DUVERNAY: GOOD CALL. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: SO, ARE
YOU RELIEVED TO FIND THIS OUT, THAT YOUR ANCESTORS WERE
SPARED THIS SIEGE, RIGHT? AVA DUVERNAY:
WELL, IT’S SO INTERESTING, YOU SAY YOUR
FAMILY, YOUR FAMILY, AREN’T YOU HAPPY TO KNOW
YOUR FAMILY IS SAFE, AND BUT FOR ME, I’M LISTENING
TO THIS STORY FROM THE SIDE OF THE PEOPLE… HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: I KNOW. AVA DUVERNAY:
YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN? I’M LIKE THEN WHAT HAPPENED,
AND YOU’RE SAYING THE FAMILY, FROM THE PEOPLE THAT
THEY’RE REVOLTING AGAINST, SO THAT, EMOTIONALLY,
IS A DISCONNECT FOR ME. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
I KNOW, IT IS. BUT IF DESSALINES HAD
GOTTEN THERE FIRST, POOF, THIS WOULD BE LIKE A
SCIENCE FICTION MOVIE. AVA DUVERNAY: IT’S TRUE,
I’D JUST DISAPPEAR. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
YOU’D DISAPPEAR, YEAH. YOU WOULDN’T BE HERE. AVA DUVERNAY: SEE, I THOUGHT
I WAS GOING TO HAVE SOME REVOLTING ANCESTORS IN HAITI. I WAS GOING TO BE LIKE YES! BUT ALAS, THE
OTHER WAY AROUND. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: THE
GLAUDINS WERE AMONG ROUGHLY 20,000 FRENCH SUBJECTS
WHO FLED TO CUBA DURING THE HAITIAN REVOLUTION. BUT EVENTS BACK IN EUROPE
WOULD SOON BRING AN END TO THEIR SANCTUARY. IN 1808, NAPOLEON
BONAPARTE INVADED SPAIN, INSTALLING HIS
BROTHER ON THE THRONE. IN AN ACT OF DEFIANCE, THE
SPANISH COLONIAL GOVERNMENT IN CUBA EXPELLED NEARLY ALL OF
THE ISLAND’S FRENCH REFUGEES. SO THE GLAUDINS WERE
FORCED TO FLEE ONCE AGAIN, THIS TIME TO NEW ORLEANS,
COMPLETING A JOURNEY THAT VIOLATES AVA’S MOST
FUNDAMENTAL IDEAS ABOUT HER OWN ROOTS. AVA DUVERNAY: I MEAN I GUESS
I JUST ASSUMED THERE WOULD BE SLAVERY IN THE LINE IN
THE TRADITIONAL WAY THAT I’VE COME TO LEARN IT AND
KNOW IT WHICH IS BASED HERE, IN THE STATES, YOU KNOW? HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: RIGHT. AVA DUVERNAY: BUT THEY
ARRIVED TO THE STATES SO LATE IN THAT LINE, AND
HE WASN’T EVEN BLACK. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: RIGHT. AVA DUVERNAY: SO,
I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT I’M… MY MIND IS REELING AND
TRYING TO FIGURE OUT HOW, HOW WE BECAME,
HOW THIS HAPPENED. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: YOURS
IS NOT THE TYPICAL UP FROM SLAVERY, THIS IS NOT WHEN
WE WERE PICKING COTTON. AVA DUVERNAY: THAT’S
WHAT I THOUGHT, THOUGH. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
IT WASN’T HAPPENING. AVA DUVERNAY: I MEAN BUT
ISN’T IT SO ODD THAT PART OF, I MEAN, YOU KNOW, NOT THAT
IT’S BEEN ROMANTICIZED, BUT THAT, THAT THERE IS
THIS KIND OF SINGULARITY OF NARRATIVE AROUND AFRICAN
AMERICANS IN SLAVERY, THAT THERE IS THIS
KIND OF SHARED, YOU WERE BROUGHT HERE FROM
THE CONTINENT ON SLAVE SHIPS, AND YOU LANDED SOMEWHERE,
PROBABLY IN THE SOUTH, AND THERE WAS THIS, YOU KNOW,
THIS LONG LINE OF BUT SLAVERY, A, TOUCHED MANY DIFFERENT
PARTS OF THE WORLD, BEYOND THE UNITED STATES. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: SLAVERY’S
AS OLD AS CIVILIZATION. AVA DUVERNAY: YEAH, AND, UM,
YOU KNOW THAT THERE WERE OTHER WAYS TO GET TO THIS PLACE. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
AND THERE IS NOT ONE STANDARD NARRATIVE. AVA DUVERNAY: IT’S NOT
ONE STANDARD NARRATIVE, BUT THAT’S BECOME
THE NARRATIVE. THE TRUTH OF US IS COMPLICATED. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
IT’S VERY COMPLICATED. AVA DUVERNAY: ALL OF US, YEAH. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: YEAH. TURNING BACK TO
TA-NEHISI COATES, WE UNCOVERED ANOTHER FAMILY
STORY THAT CHALLENGES THE “STANDARD NARRATIVE” OF THE
AFRICAN AMERICAN EXPERIENCE. IT BEGINS IN THE ARCHIVES OF
WORCESTER COUNTY, MARYLAND, WITH THE ESTATE INVENTORY
OF A MAN NAMED HENRY JONES. JONES WAS A FARMER AND
THIS INVENTORY, COMPILED AFTER HIS DEATH,
LISTS THE VALUES FOR ALL THE PROPERTY HE OWNED,
INCLUDING TA-NEHISI’S THIRD GREAT-GRANDMOTHER… TA-NEHISI COATES:
“NEGRO GIRL HARRIET, $250” HMM, THAT’S SOMETHING. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: THAT IS
YOUR THIRD-GREAT-GRANDMOTHER, SOMEONE ELSE’S PROPERTY. HER VALUE, WORTH $250, IN
2015 DOLLARS, IT’S 8,000 BUCKS. TA-NEHISI COATES:
YEAH, IT’S HEAVY, IT’S HEAVY. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
ALMOST EVERY AFRICAN AMERICAN GRAPPLES WITH THE
FACT THAT SOME OF THEIR ANCESTORS WERE ENSLAVED. AND THOSE ANCESTORS CAN
ONLY BE GLIMPSED THROUGH THE RECORDS OF THEIR OWNERS. BUT IN HARRIET’S CASE,
THE RECORDS ALSO CONTAINED QUITE A SURPRISE. HER OWNER, HENRY JONES,
DIED IN 1849. AND HIS WILL GAVE HARRIET
TWO THINGS THAT FEW SLAVES EVER RECEIVED:
FREEDOM AND LAND. TA-NEHISI COATES:
“IT IS MY WILL AND DESIRE THAT MY SLAVE HARRIET SHALL
BE FREE AT THE AGE OF 28 YEARS. I GIVE TO MY SLAVE HARRIET
FIVE ACRES OF LAND AT THE SOUTH END OF LAWS
THIRD EDITION.” HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
THIS IS NOT YOUR TYPICAL AFRICAN-AMERICAN STORY, NOT
YOUR TYPICAL SLAVE EXPERIENCE. TA-NEHISI COATES: OKAY, YEAH. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: YOU HAVE
WRITTEN SO ELOQUENTLY ABOUT SLAVERY AND REPARATIONS, BUT
YOU ARE ONE OF THE HANDFUL OF AFRICAN-AMERICANS WHO DESCEND
NOT UNILATERALLY FROM ENSLAVED PEOPLE, BUT FROM FREE
NEGROES ON YOUR MOM’S SIDE. TA-NEHISI COATES:
MMM-HMM, DO I GET A BADGE, DO I GET SOME COOKIES, OR? HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
NO, YOU CAN’T WRITE ABOUT REPARATIONS ANYMORE. TA-NEHISI COATES:
RIGHT, RIGHT, RIGHT. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
YOU ONE OF THEM FREE NEGROES, HIGHFALUTIN’, TALENTED TENTH. TA-NEHISI COATES:
I GUESS, I GUESS. I’LL TAKE IT. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
WE DON’T KNOW WHY HARRIET WAS GIVEN HER FREEDOM. BUT WE DO KNOW SHE
MADE THE MOST OF IT. BY 1860, HARRIET HAD
MARRIED A FREE MAN OF COLOR NAMED LAMBERT SMACK, HE’S TA-NEHISI’S
THIRD GREAT-GRANDFATHER. AND RECORDS SHOW THAT
HE AND HARRIET WERE A REMARKABLY SUCCESSFUL PAIR. IN FEBRUARY OF 1865,
LAMBERT PURCHASED TWO TRACTS OF LAND FOR $900. TA-NEHISI COATES:
THAT’S A LOT OF MONEY. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
AND A LOT OF LAND. TA-NEHISI COATES: YEAH. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
THAT’S ASTONISHING, FOR A BLACK FAMILY? TA-NEHISI COATES: YEAH, NO. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
ESPECIALLY WHEN THE AVERAGE WEALTH ACCUMULATION FOR
BLACK PEOPLE IS ZERO. TA-NEHISI COATES: WAS
ZERO, WAS ZERO, YEAH. YEP, MMM, THAT’S SOMETHING. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: TO
PUT THIS STORY IN CONTEXT, WE TURNED TO THE 1870 CENSUS
FOR WORCESTER COUNTY, MARYLAND, IT SHOWED JUST HOW UNUSUAL
TA-NEHISI’S FAMILY WAS… SO, LOOK AT THAT. YOUR ANCESTORS’ REAL ESTATE
WAS VALUED AT $3,000 IN 1870, LOOK AT THE VALUE OF
THE REAL ESTATE IN ALL THE REST OF THOSE COLUMNS. TA-NEHISI COATES: RIGHT. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
NONE OF LAMBERT AND HARRIET’S NEIGHBORS HAD ANY REAL ESTATE. TA-NEHISI COATES:
JESUS CHRIST. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
FIVE YEARS AFTER THE END OF THE CIVIL WAR. THEY WEREN’T JUST LANDOWNERS,
THEY WERE WEALTHY LANDOWNERS. TA-NEHISI COATES: WHEW. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: THEY
WERE THE RICHEST PEOPLE ON THE BLOCK, SO TO SPEAK. THINK ABOUT THE COMPLEXITY
THE BLACK EXPERIENCE NOW, NOT ONLY IN THE
ABSTRACT IN GENERAL, BUT IN YOUR OWN FAMILY TREE. YOU HAVE TWO DIFFERENT
BLACK NARRATIVES UNFOLDING IN YOUR GENEALOGY. TA-NEHISI COATES: RIGHT. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
ON ONE SIDE OF YOUR FAMILY, YOU CAME FROM PEOPLE WHO
WORKED THE LAND, THE SLAVES. TA-NEHISI COATES: RIGHT. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: ON THE
OTHER SIDE OF YOUR FAMILY, CAME FROM PEOPLE WHO
OWNED THE PROPERTY. TA-NEHISI COATES:
YEAH, IT’S FASCINATING. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: LAMBERT
AND HARRIET’S WEALTH WOULD BENEFIT THEIR DESCENDANTS
FOR GENERATIONS, INDEED, TA-NEHISI’S RELATIVES HAVE
OWNED LAND IN VIRTUALLY THE SAME PLACE IN MARYLAND
FOR ALMOST 150 YEARS! GROWING UP, TA-NEHISI
VISITED COUSINS HERE AND HE STILL VISITS TODAY. IT’S A STORY OF
EXTRAORDINARY STABILITY. AND IT CONFIRMS TA-NEHISI’S
INTUITIONS ABOUT HIS MOTHER’S FAMILY… TA-NEHISI COATES:
YOU KNOW WHAT’S ODD, MY FOLKS DOWN ON THE
EASTERN SHORE ALWAYS, THEY ALWAYS HAD THINGS. UH, THEY WEREN’T RICH. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
YEAH, SURE. TA-NEHISI COATES: BUT
THEY, THEY HAD THINGS. DO YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN? HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
I UNDERSTAND. TA-NEHISI COATES: AGAIN,
IT DID NOT LOOK OPULENT. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: RIGHT. TA-NEHISI COATES: BUT IT
LOOKED LIKE Y’ALL HAD DONE, LOOKED LIKE Y’ALL HAD TROUBLE
PUTTING THIS TOGETHER. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: YES. TA-NEHISI COATES: YOU KNOW WE’RE
TALKING ABOUT 1865 RIGHT HERE? HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: YEAH. TA-NEHISI COATES: I STARTED
GOING TO THE EASTERN SHORE, WELL, I’M BORN IN 1975, AND
IT IS OBVIOUS THAT, YOU KNOW, I MEAN, YOU TALKING
ABOUT 100 YEARS LATER, AND IT’S OBVIOUS TO ME
THESE PEOPLE HAVE, AGAIN, NOT RICH,
BUT HAVE THINGS. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
YES, ABSOLUTELY. TA-NEHISI COATES: HAVE THINGS. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
ABSOLUTELY, DID YOUR MOM EVER TALK ABOUT THAT? I MEAN, DID YOUR MOM
EVER DO A THING LIKE MY MOM, “YOU COME FROM PEOPLE,
WE’RE DIFFERENT NEGROS. TA-NEHISI COATES: YOU
KNOW, MY MOM USED TO SAY, MY MOM GREW UP IN THE
PROJECTS, AND WHAT SHE’D SAY, “YEAH, WE GREW
UP POOR, BUT…” IT WAS POOR IN THE
SENSE OF LACK OF MONEY, BUT MY GRANDMOTHER
SENT ALL THREE OF HER DAUGHTERS TO COLLEGE. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
YEAH, THAT’S RIGHT. TA-NEHISI COATES: MY
GRANDMOTHER, YOU KNOW, WORKED, YOU KNOW, BASICALLY
WORKED HERSELF THROUGH NURSING SCHOOL, BUT SHE
WAS ABLE TO SEND HER CHILDREN AWAY TO THE EASTERN SHORE. YOU KNOW, IT WAS
A PLACE TO GO? HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
RIGHT, A REAL HOME. TA-NEHISI COATES: A REAL HOME. A REAL, A VERY
REAL ANCESTRAL HOME, AND SO I DRAW A DIRECT
LINE FROM THAT, YOU KNOW, TO THE STABILITY THAT MY MOM
REALLY PROVIDED IN MY LIFE AND THE IMPORTANCE OF
EDUCATION, AND YOU KNOW, THE LEARNING TO
READ EARLY, THE WRITING, ALL OF THAT, YOU KNOW? MAYBE THAT’S TOO FAR,
BUT I, I DO SEE IT. I DO SEE IT. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: WE HAD
ALREADY TAKEN JANET MOCK’S AFRICAN AMERICAN FAMILY BACK
FOUR GENERATIONS IN LOUISIANA, NOW IT WAS TIME EXPLORE
A DIFFERENT SIDE OF HER HERITAGE, IN HAWAII. JANET SPENT MOST OF
HER CHILDHOOD IN HONOLULU, MUCH OF IT IN THE CARE OF
HER MATERNAL GRANDMOTHER PEARL, A NATIVE HAWAIIAN. JANET MOCK: WE ALL,
ALL, ME AND MY COUSINS, WERE DROPPED OFF
AT GRANDMA PEARL’S. AND SO, SHE WAS THIS
CONSTANT PRESENCE IN MY LIFE, AND I REMEMBER HER MAKING
ME YOU KNOW, MY FAVORITE, WHICH WAS HOT CHOCOLATE
AND BUTTERED TOAST. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
OH, WOW, THAT’S GOOD. JANET MOCK: VERY SIMPLE, BUT
YOU KNOW, THAT’S WHAT I LOVED, AND SHE’D MAKE THAT FOR ME,
AND SHE’D BE PLAYING HAWAIIAN MUSIC, AND SO, THOSE
ARE THINGS THAT I REMEMBER. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: ALTHOUGH
PEARL WAS A CENTRAL FIGURE IN JANET’S LIFE, SHE RARELY
SPOKE ABOUT HER ANCESTRY AND JANET TOLD ME THAT
HER HAWAIIAN FAMILY IS LARGELY A MYSTERY TO HER. JANET MOCK:
I DON’T KNOW MUCH. I JUST KNOW THAT MY
GRANDMOTHER PEARL GREW UP ON THE WINDWARD
SIDE OF THE ISLAND, AND SHE WAS
THE YOUNGEST, I THINK, I THINK OF,
LIKE, 12 OR 13. ALL OF MY GRANDPARENTS
ARE PASSED ON BOTH SIDES OF MY FAMILY, SO I
WASN’T ABLE TO SIT AND HAVE THOSE ADULT
CONVERSATIONS WITH THEM. I FEEL LIKE
THERE’S A, A LOST LINK. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
TO RESTORE THIS LINK, WE TURNED TO THE RECORDS. IN THE 1930 CENSUS,
WE FOUND PEARL’S PARENTS, DAVID AND WINNIE KAHANAOI
LIVING IN HONOLULU. JANET QUICKLY NOTICED SOMETHING
INTERESTING ABOUT THEM. JANET MOCK: “DAVID
KAHANAOI, 36 YEARS OLD. RACE: HA,” WHICH
MUST MEAN HAWAIIAN. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: MMM-HMM. JANET MOCK:
“SPEAKS ENGLISH: YES. WINNIE KAHANAOI,
37 YEARS OLD. RACE: HA. SPEAKS ENGLISH: NO.” HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
NO, SO WHAT LANGUAGE DO YOU THINK WINNIE SPOKE? JANET MOCK: HAWAIIAN, I
WOULD, I WOULD ASSUME, THAT AT THAT TIME,
SHE MUST HAVE JUST GREW UP SPEAKING HAWAIIAN. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: A GREAT
DEAL OF HISTORY LIES BEHIND THIS DISTINCTION, IN 1893,
HAWAII’S LAST QUEEN WAS OVERTHROWN, IN A COUP
BACKED BY AMERICAN BUSINESS INTERESTS, ENDING
CENTURIES OF NATIVE RULE AND PAVING THE WAY FOR THE
ISLANDS TO BECOME PART OF THE UNITED STATES. DURING THIS PROCESS, THE HAWAIIAN
LANGUAGE WAS SUPPRESSED. INDEED, WHEN THIS
CENSUS WAS TAKEN IN 1930, THE LANGUAGE HAD NOT BEEN
TAUGHT IN HAWAIIAN SCHOOLS FOR MORE THAN THREE DECADES. TODAY, HAWAIIAN IS
EXPERIENCING A REVIVAL AND SEEING THAT HER ANCESTOR SPOKE
IT WAS DEEPLY MOVING TO JANET. JANET MOCK: THAT’S
SOMETHING THAT, YOU KNOW, MY GENERATION MOSTLY
FOUGHT VERY HARD FOR, TO ENSURE THAT THE
HAWAIIAN IMMERSION SCHOOLS, WHERE YOUNG PEOPLE WERE
ABLE TO GO TO SMALLER CHARTER SCHOOLS THAT WERE RUN
BY NATIVE HAWAIIANS. YOU KNOW,
THEY LEARNED DANCE. THEY LEARNED,
UM, THE LANGUAGE. THEY LEARNED OUR HISTORY,
OUR MONARCHY IT KIND OF SKIPPED TWO GENERATIONS,
AND THEN IT, YOU KNOW, THEN YOU HAD TO FIGHT FOR IT
TO COME BACK AND TO BE REVIVED. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: RIGHT. JANET MOCK: THE FACT
THAT SHE COULD SAY “NO, I DIDN’T SPEAK ENGLISH.” THAT SHE DIDN’T HAVE TO
RELY ON THAT LANGUAGE, AND SHE HAD
HER OWN LANGUAGE. IT MAKES ME SO HAPPY. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: WE WERE
ABLE TO TAKE WINNIE’S FAMILY BACK TWO GENERATIONS TO JANET’S
THIRD GREAT-GRANDPARENTS, WHO WERE LIKELY BORN
IN HAWAII IN THE 1850S. AND WHEN WE TURNED TO
WINNIE’S HUSBAND DAVID, WE FOUND SOMETHING
I DIDN’T EXPECT. HAVE YOU EVER SEEN
THOSE PHOTOS BEFORE? JANET MOCK: NO. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: WELL,
YOU’RE LOOKING AT DAVID’S PARENTS, ABRAHAM
AND THERESA KAHANAOI. JANET MOCK: OH MY GOD. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: SO,
WHAT’S IT LIKE TO SEE YOUR GREAT-GREAT-GRANDPARENTS? JANET MOCK: NICE TO MEET YOU? I GUESS. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: THOSE
ARE YOUR PEOPLE, YOUR FAMILY. YOUR BLOOD. JANET MOCK: I’M SURPRISED
THAT THE PARENTS OF, YOU KNOW, MY GREAT-GRANDPARENTS
ARE, ARE HERE AND COUNTED. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: I
AM TOO AND I’M DELIGHTED. JANET MOCK: THIS IS
VERY EXCITING FOR ME. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
JANET WANTED TO KNOW MORE ABOUT ABRAHAM AND THERESA. THERE WERE FEW
RECORDS TO GUIDE US, BUT BY COMBING THROUGH
THE CITY ARCHIVES OF HONOLULU, WE WERE ABLE TO GLIMPSE
DETAILS OF THEIR DAILY LIVES… HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: THIS IS
A DIRECTORY FOR THE CITY AND COUNTY OF HONOLULU
FROM THE YEAR 1913. JANET MOCK: WOW,
“KAHANAOI, ABRAHAM, LABORER, KANEOHE, HEEIA.” HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
IN 1913, WHEN HE WAS AROUND 46 YEARS OLD, ABRAHAM
WAS A FIELD WORKER IN HEEIA, WHICH IS A FARMING REGION. JANET MOCK: MHMM. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: ON YOUR
LEFT IS ANOTHER ENTRY FROM ANOTHER CITY DIRECTORY, BUT THIS ONE IS
FROM THE YEAR 1921. JANET MOCK: “KAHANAOI,
ABRAHAM, TARO PLANTER.” HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
TARO PLANTER. SO, EIGHT YEARS LATER, WHEN
YOUR GREAT-GREAT-GRANDFATHER WAS AROUND 54, HE’S PLANTING
TARO AND WHILE WE CAN’T BE SURE OF WHAT HE WAS
DOING AS A YOUNG MAN, IT SEEMS LIKELY THAT YOUR
GREAT-GREAT-GRANDFATHER SPENT HIS ENTIRE LIFE
WORKING IN THE FIELDS. JANET MOCK: YEAH, I GUESS
THAT IT JUST, IT AFFIRMS, UM, ASSUMPTIONS THAT I HAD
ABOUT, YOU KNOW, MY FAMILY. YOU KNOW, MY GRANDMOTHER
WAS, WAS HARD-WORKING, SELF-SACRIFICING,
UM, A STRONG WOMAN, JUST PHYSICALLY STRONG
AND CAPABLE, YOU KNOW? AND SO, THIS IS LIKE
A MISSING PUZZLE PIECE. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: YEAH. JANET MOCK: AND SO,
THEN I WANT TO PULL THESE PIECES TOGETHER, AND
THAT THESE PIECES MAKE ME. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: THAT’S
A BEAUTIFUL WAY TO PUT IT. THE PAPER TRAIL HAD NOW
RUN OUT FOR EACH OF MY GUESTS. IT WAS TIME TO SEE WHAT
DNA COULD TELL US ABOUT THEIR DEEPER ROOTS. FOR JANET, WHOSE ADMIXTURE
REVEALS HER AFRICAN, HAWAIIAN, AND EUROPEAN HERITAGE, THIS
WAS AN OCCASION TO EXPAND HER SENSE OF HER OWN IDENTITY. JANET MOCK: YOU KNOW, I SAY
THAT I AM A BLACK TRANS WOMAN, BUT I THINK THAT I NEED TO
COMPLICATE THAT EVEN MORE, UM, TO ENSURE THAT I AM, YOU KNOW,
AS EXACTING AND SAYING THAT I’M A NATIVE HAWAIIAN,
BLACK, TRANS WOMAN. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
YEAH, I MEAN, LOOK, THESE ARE YOUR ROOTS. JANET MOCK: IT
LEAVES ME WITH HOMEWORK. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: OH YEAH. JANET MOCK: THANKS, PROFESSOR. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
FOR AVA AND TA-NEHISI, DNA RAISED A MORE
PRESSING QUESTION, THEY WANTED TO KNOW JUST
HOW AFRICAN THEY REALLY ARE. OKAY, THERE YOU GO,
WANT TO READ THEM OUT LOUD? TA-NEHISI COATES:
83.4% SUB-SAHARAN AFRICAN, 15.6% EUROPEAN. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: YEAH,
YOU OUGHT TO GIVE 15.6% OF YOUR SALARY BACK. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: I
WANT YOU TO TAKE A GUESS. YOU’VE GOT A LOT OF
WHITE PEOPLE IN THAT FAMILY. AVA DUVERNAY: I KNOW. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: OKAY,
JUST TAKE A WILD GUESS. AVA DUVERNAY: MORE THAN 50%. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
EUROPEAN? AVA DUVERNAY: YEAH. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
OKAY, LET’S SEE, PLEASE… AVA DUVERNAY: I WOULDN’T
HAVE SAID THAT BEFORE, BUT… HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
LET’S SEE IF YOU’RE RIGHT. PLEASE TURN THE PAGE. CAN YOU READ THE PERCENT? AVA DUVERNAY: I’M BLACK. I AM BLACK. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
WELCOME BACK, WELCOME BACK, WELCOME BACK, YOU’RE
BLASTED OFF TO ST. DOMINGUE… AVA DUVERNAY: YOU’RE FUNNY! HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
SANTIAGO DE CUBA. CAN YOU READ
THOSE PERCENTAGES? AVA DUVERNAY: 57.3% AFRICAN,
THANK YOU, 41.5% EUROPEAN. THIS MAKES ME SO HAPPY. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR:
I CAN TELL. AVA DUVERNAY: THIS
JUST MAKES ME SO HAPPY. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR: WAIT, BUT
WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES IT MAKE? AVA DUVERNAY: I HAD HAD A
WHOLE NARRATIVE IN MY HEAD OF LIKE IT DOESN’T MATTER,
IT’S HOW I IDENTIFY, IT’S HOW I’M
SEEN IN THE WORLD, IT’S HOW I, YOU KNOW? I DID THE WHOLE THING, BUT
I TOTALLY JUST FELT LIKE MY HEART JUST BURST OPEN, BECAUSE IT DOES MAKE
A DIFFERENCE TO ME. WHAT A GREAT THING. THIS WAS AN INCREDIBLE,
INCREDIBLE EXPERIENCE.

8 thoughts on “Finding Your Roots Author Ta-Nehisi Coates, activist Janet Mock and filmmaker…

  1. Noticing the overuse / repeating of "actually", "basically",
    "obviously", "appreciate", "wow", "at least", "a little bit" and other words/phrases? Find out why on facebook.
    ColePhoenixWolvesforHire.

  2. I love this series,do not care what other people think to be honest! How great is it to know what en who you come from. please keep making this program!!!!!!!

  3. I mean, a lot of present day african Americans probably have a % of white in them due to the way white owners would often take advantage of black female slaves

  4. Well ! Girl just expected you are black as much as you are white! What’s wrong in say you almost half and half .

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