*Actress S. Epatha Merkerson and former athlete Michael Strahan appeared on Tuesday’s episode of the PBS series “Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates Jr,” and learned a few disturbing reveals about her ancestors.
“I’ve always wanted to know where we came from,” Merkerson says in the program.
As reported by the Philly Trib, in an episode titled “Freedom Tales,” Gates gigs deep with both stars and discovers unexpected stories that “challenge assumptions about Black history.”
Back at the summer TCA press tour, Henry Louis Gates and Merkerson were asked about their reactions when they learned of the surprising things about their family.
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Henry Louis Gates, Jr. said: “Using DNA, we linked Epatha Merkerson to her third-great-grandfather, who was held in slavery by Jesuit priests, at Georgetown University. Many of you have read about this scandal, this revolution. 1838, the Jesuits, Georgetown was running out of money. They sold 273 slaves down the river to the South.
“And using their records, Georgetown re-bought her, he paid back two more generations to her 5th-great grandparents deep in slavery, by name. Unprecedented. Totally extraordinary. You found the most horrendous story in the history of slavery, I think.”
Epatha said: “It was really painful to understand that, first of all, my family, as I had some feeling they would come out of slavery. I think that what was most painful for me was knowing that they were enslaved on land that was owned by the Catholic Church and that the Pope had sanctioned their selling to keep Georgetown University afloat. “
“But the good out of that and I still get emotional about it is that I don’t come from nameless people. I am a member of the Hawkins’ clan. And because they were at Georgetown, everything was documented, even the name of the boat that took them from Port Tobacco, Maryland.
“So, indeed, it is a painful history. But the fact that I understand that I am a member of the Hawkins Butler clan, it’s far more powerful for me.
Gates says on the program’s website: “There is something essential in human nature that drives us to wonder where we came from. We can’t truly know ourselves until we know something about our origins. With new DNA technology we can learn more about this past and go further back than ever before, and we hope that the new season will inspire people to find out more about their own personal family stories, and spark an interest among young people in genetics, anthropology, history and the pursuit of science.”
“Finding Your Roots” airs Tuesdays at 8/7c on PBS.