Sunday, April 1, 2012

Finding Your Roots on PBS - Sunday Review

Tonight's guests were legendary!

Activist and teacher extraordinaire, Geoffrey Canada and brilliant news icon,  Barabra Walters. Both are individuals that I highly admire.

I did not take notes tonight, instead, I simply watched the show for the pleasure of it. And I am so glad I did!

Henry Louis Gates, Jr., always a gentleman and a superb host, certainly outshone himself this evening!

Geoffrey Canada

Having a small amount of working knowledge of the part Canada plays in educating those children who might not otherwise be afforded opportunities to those from more affluent arenas, I have admired his work. But I knew little about the man's history, other than a passing remark that he was raised without his father's influence.

It was a shock to learn Canada knew absolutely nothing about his father's parents. Nothing!

The journey and the story to get back to Canada's great-great-grandfather, Thomas Cannaday, was brilliantly done. Tender and remarkable!

DNA study performed, Canada learned that his great-great-grandfather was a slave that was most likely fathered by his white master in Franklin County, Virginia. Sadly, descendants of that white man refused to perform a DNA test to see if there was a match. I truly hope that they will have a change of heart!

Geoffrey walked the farm, where once, Thomas, his ancestor, must have run and played as a boy. And I could not help but to laugh when Gates asked him how he felt to learn of the white ancestry. His response was comical, "I guess it's a good thing I don't hate whites then!"

Canada stated this is a chapter in our country's history where we must learn to talk about these things, this mixture of cultures and bloods. Today he spoke of his grandchildren's mixed heritage, which included a variety of race and cultural backgrounds, and that we are all mixed.

Well done Mr. Gates, for a superb show!

And then we discover Barbara Walters,
She at first refused to be on the show, because she had already had a professional genealogist learn "all there is to know" about her father's family. So, Gates challenged her to allow him to look into her family. In looking over the previous work performed, he saw a few inconsistencies and decided to begin the research fresh and new.

And what a stroke of fortune for Walters that he did!

Walters family is of Jewish descent. This, of course, she already knew. But the where and when were still a bit of a mystery.

So, the research traced Walters father, Lou Walters, back to when he arrived in this country, and even farther. A Jewish researcher took Gates to the Jewish cemetery where Walters grandparents were buried and there they learned the names of Barbara's great-grandparents. But in searching for documentation, they found that her great-grandfather's name as listed on the monument was only his given name. They traced him back to Poland, and the record of her grandfather's birth, and found the surname for this family was Waremwasser, which literally translated means "Warmwater".

And, indeed, when the family arrived in the United States, they were first known as the Warmwater family. They first immigrated from Poland to England, and from there to San Francisco, California. However, they did not stay, and returned to London for about ten years before finally coming to settle in New York City. This time, they took the surname Walters.

This was quite the incredible journey, easily as great as that taken by Canada, as Walters, did indeed learn something totally new about her family!

At the end of the program, Gates challenged student's of Canada's program to make a guess as to what percentage of their DNA would show that they were African descent, what percent European, and what percent Native American /Asian. Most of the students were surprised to see that they had greater percentages of European ancestry than they thought. Pleasing to see that they all took this information as intelligent individuals. Everyone stating that this information was good to know, so that they knew where they came from. When asked if this information would change them culturally, equally as pleasing, each stated it would not. Their culture is more than the blood that runs through their veins, as is all of our cultures. One young lady summed it up perfectly, "My culture is how I was raised and that's who I am!"

Well done PBS and Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

I'll be back next week for another episode!

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