Wednesday, February 6, 2008

‘African American Lives 2’ on PBS tonight

Blogger Lola Gets has made a feisty argument against Black History Month (or “Ghetto Month,” as she calls it):

“As a professional historian... I don’t think we should just limit the exploration of any one culture to just one month. And yet, we do! And everyone does it!”

I know where Lola’s coming from. It can get kinda corny... like when a local TV station puts up a sepia-toned photo of Harriet Tubman, and that’s that.

Tokenism or no, I’m grateful for the occasional piece of good television in February. Like the Henry Louis Gates special “African American Lives 2,” premiering tonight at 9 o’clock on PBS.

Prof. Gates digs into the genealogical history of celebrities such as Morgan Freeman, Tina Turner, Maya Angelou and Chris Rock. Even brought a tear to Chris’s eye.

I’ll be watching.

UPDATE (02/07/09): This show was deep. I nodded out about halfway through the second hour, but that’s not Skip Gates’s fault; my sleep patterns have been irregular lately.

Anyhoo, “African American Lives 2” reinforces, for me personally, the great power of narrative. Stories are the things we use to make sense of the past. There were some great stories last night.

Like the fact that some of Don Cheadle’s slave ancestors were owned not by whites, but by the Chickasaw Indians. (Yep, Indians owned slaves. Matter fact, the Chickasaw fought on the Confederate side during the Civil War.) Cheadle could hardly put words together when he found that shit out.

Oh... and after slavery was abolished in the South, the Chickasaw Nation said, “Forget dat... we’re keeping our slaves!” And blacks remained slaves in Indian Territory for another 20 years or so... until the U.S. government could negotiate an end to it.

Another great story told last night was the death by electric chair of two of Tom Joyner’s great uncles... an apparent injustice that caused that branch of Joyner’s family to flee South Carolina.

And then there was the unlikely tale of interracial romance in Morgan Freeman’s family tree.

Anybody else watch it? What did you think of it?


jjbrock said...

UBM thanks for the reminder. This show is very interesting. Even if it is not my family, I like watching it.

kenn said...

I'll be watching.

Wanda said...

I was looking forward to this but completely missed the date. Thanks for the reminder.

This was an awesome show last year and even got a couple of reruns. I looked into getting my geneology DNA test, but its about 175-300 bucks and since I'm a woman can't test my paternal side.

Maybe I'll just save up for it.

Edshugeo The GodMoor said...

175-300 is a lot cheaper than I imagined it to be. Not that I can just drop 300 bucks like that, but it's a bit further up on my to do list, than it had been for a while.

Undercover Black Man said...

... and since I'm a woman can't test my paternal side.

Oh wow, Wanda... I never realized that. But then I never did too well in science.

Reviewer X said...

How and where can you get it done?

daughterofthedream said...

Wow, I JUST remembered it was that time of year again...I guess I should expect to hear the deep Black-History-Month voice in a glut of commercials for awhile...

Undercover Black Man said...

How and where can you get it done?

Funny you should ask that, Reviewer X. Henry Louis Gates is co-founder of a company that does DNA analysis...

A remarkable coincidence.

Bklyn6 said...

I'm taping tonight's episode.

I loved the "Brown Sugar" documentary (based on the Donald Bogle book of the same title) that used to air on PBS during Black History month.

Undercover Black Man said...

^ I never did see "Brown Sugar." But as I mentioned in a previous comment, I was happy to stumble on a repeat of "Eyes on the Prize" last weekend during the day.

Bklyn6 said...

Bogle has updated the book and it includes Beyonce. Guess it's time to "Upgrade" the documentary! :-P

eeaster said...

Not to self-serve, but we have an article about the experience (when you don't have Skip Gates as a researcher) on today.

Back to Wanda. a woman can't check her paternal side because women only carry the single chromosome. Men, having the XY, can check either side. Women can find a male relative to, if one is living to go paternal.

Also checking either side does not count for spouses at any of those points. If you're aman, the results count for your siblings, your father, his brothers, your father's father, his father's father and only the men on back.

If you think you're part Indian on your grandma's side somewhere, it won't show up - at least on the African DNA test.

There is another test does not specify your country of origin, but quantifies your mixture - 72% European, 10% African etc..

There's also a disclaimer on the test that asks if you want to know if you're not African. An unusual number of Black men find that they are, in fact, German. Lots of folk ain't trying to hear that. And the cost is more like $399. More if you want individual certificates of ancestry to give as gifts to your children or family. Even more if you want the I'm an Official Negro from (country here) t-shirt.

African Ancestry, the compnay started at Howard by Prof. Rick Kittles is the best known place.

Edshugeo The GodMoor said...

"An unusual number of Black men find that they are, in fact, German. Lots of folk ain't trying to hear that."

That is hilarious.

I'm expecting Yoruba with just a touch of Jew, but that's just a sorta uneducated guess.

Lola Gets said...

Yep, I watched it too, well, I tried to, what with the crappy volume on my broke-down tv.

I liked the program, but I also liked it the first time around. Initially, I didnt like the way the show jumped from person to person, but then I realized that it made more sense that way, as they were looking at one generation, one historical era at a time.

And dammit UBM - I WAS gonna post about Cheadles history! Well, I probably will anyway, but itll have to be tomorrow, as I left my notes at home, lol.


Lola Gets said...

As for getting the test done myself, Id like to do so, and so does my younger sister. Oprah did a show about this kind of genetic testing, and it showed that the genes that showed up depended on the type of test done. One woman had 4 or 5 tests done and they each showed something different, so you have to keep an open mind and remember that there can be oodles of outcomes to these tests.


Lola Gets said...

forgot to do this, sowwy, lol.


Mes Deux Cents said...


I watched the program last night. I really enjoyed it. But I'm easy when it comes to African American narratives.

I will say that I would love to see Professor Gates pick 10 Black families at random and follow their histories. I think I would find that more compelling.

I may have celebrity overload so my opinion might be a minority opinion.

No pun intended. :)

Wanda said...

Cheadles family was owned by the Chickasaw nation, not Choctaw. Get it together David.

I really enjoyed the show, though it seemed slower than last years episodes. I think that is due to more subjects to test.

Morgan Freeman's and Chris Rock's family tree were the most interesting to me.

You would immeadiately assume (due to the time period) that since he had "mixed" ancestors that it was due to rape, but to hear thier story of being together for 35 years and his GGM being buried with her "husband's" name even though they couldn't legally ever get married. It was kinda sweet.

Chris Rocks GGF went through some serious drama. I wonder how it could be forgotten that someone in your family was a state senator. Especially a former slave during Reconstruction.

Very fascinating stuff.

Undercover Black Man said...

Get it together David.

That make you feel good, Wanda?

Reviewer X said...

Funny you should ask that, Reviewer X. Henry Louis Gates is co-founder of a company that does DNA analysis...

Thanks! That's a little spendy, but you only live once. I TiVo'd the show, but haven't watched it yet.

Being heard here said...

I also watched it and Don Cheadle's family history blew me away. I knew that some Indian nations owned slaves (like the Cher0kee) but it was still a mind f*%k to hear how Naive Americans treated their African Americans= slaves after Emancipation! That was amazing and just goes to show how compl;icated hostry IS sometimes. Tom Joyner's family history made me cringe and reminded me of the Scottsboro Boys trial in the 30's, you remember that? What made me sadder still was the silence in the family from his grandmother about what happened. That was a tough thing to hold on to I'm sure. She lost so much.

Chris Rock's history of his great-great (I think?) Uncle becoming a solder in the Union Army and then a Senator was pretty cool too.

The BIG lesson for me was we need to talk about our own person histories more. The good the bad AND the ugly. At least Skip is doing something about that. Amen.


Anonymous said...


Link to db's Annual Black History Month TV Schedule Blog.

caged bird

Wanda said...

Get it together David.

That make you feel good, Wanda?

I've been waiting for you to make an error for months. Bwhahahahaha! Just remember who caught it!

Undercover Black Man said...

^ Hee.

Bklyn6 said...

Don Cheadles's family! I had a black co-worker who would often talk--with pride--about how her family had lived on a reservation. How I'm seeing her story in a new light.

The BIG lesson for me was we need to talk about our own person histories more.

This is why I love StoryCorps.