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July 30, 2014, 9:12 am

‘Finding Your Roots’ traces genealogy

The genealogies of top-grossing actor Samuel L. Jackson, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and renowned educator Ruth Simmons, the 18th President of Brown University, will be explored when WHYY presents "Finding Your Roots, with Henry Louis Gates, Jr.," airing April 29 at 8 p.m.

In the 10-part series filmed on location across the United States, Gates explores the family lineages of some of America's most prominent figures including Newark, NJ Mayor Cory Booker, actress Wanda Sykes, civil rights icon and U.S. Rep. John Lewis and Grammy Award-winning singer John Legend. In this Sunday's hour-long episode, Jackson, Rice and Simmons "finally find out the truth about the white men hidden in their family trees."

Rice has her roots traced to her great-grandmother, Zine Rice, who was born around 1830. When Rice discovers that she is "slightly more than half African," she said. "I've always thought that this is the kind of unhealed wound in America...that we have trouble talking about what really happened during slavery. We have trouble talking about the scars of that...that's the unspoken and the unfinished business of race in America."  

At a recent screening of "Finding Your Roots," Gates told the story of how he became interested in genealogy as a nine year-old boy after the 1960 funeral of his grandfather Edward St. Lawrence Gates. He said that he was struck by how pale his light-skinned granddad appeared in the casket, and it made him curious to know more about how he got that way.

"The next day I got a composition book, and I interviewed my parents in front of the TV about their family tree," Gates said. "That night Daddy showed me a picture of our oldest ancestor, Jane Gates, who was a slave born in 1819, and she died in 1888. I have been addicted to genealogy ever since."

Gates, the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor at Harvard University, director of the W.C.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African-American Research and Editor-in-Chief of "The Root," broke new ground in 2006 with his first genealogy series, "African-American Lives." He explored the roots of such Black celebrities as Oprah Winfrey, Chris Tucker, Don Cheadle, Chris Rock, Tom Joyner, Maya Angelou, Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Tina Turner.

While doing research for the show, Gates was also able to confirm through DNA analysis that his grandfather's heritage included Irish ancestry.  

 

The Root.com and Politico.com contributed to this report. 

Contact Entertainment Reporter Kimberly C. Roberts at (215) 893-5753 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .