Tuesday, January 22, 2008

African American Lives Returns

The PBS television series African American Lives 2 premieres Wednesday, February 6, and after screening the four episodes, we’re happy to report this second series is as fascinating as the first.

Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., returning as host and producer, presents the family histories of several celebrities. Featured in African American Lives 2 are poet Maya Angelou, author Bliss Broyard, actors Don Cheadle and Morgan Freeman, theologian Peter Gomes, publisher Linda Rice Johnson, athlete Jackie Joyner-Kersee, radio host Tom Joyner, comedian Chris Rock, and the legendary singer Tina Turner.

Response to the first African American Lives brought requests from viewers asking for their stories to be told and genealogies traced. College administrator Kathleen Henderson, who was selected from more than 2,000 applicants, is featured in the new broadcast.

African American Lives 2 is outstanding. Once again, Henry Louis Gates brings compelling histories, surprising research discoveries, and dazzling results from DNA analysis. As stories in the series unfold, Chris Rock finds his great-great-grandfather, a black Civil War veteran, served in the South Carolina State Legislature, while Don Cheadle learns that his ancestors were enslaved by Native Americans—even after slavery’s abolishment. Reverend Peter Gomes is presented with DNA evidence suggesting a direct paternal ancestor was a Portuguese Jew. And Dr. Gates’s own personal research journey led to filming for this broadcast in an unexpected ancestral homeland—Ireland.

During my interview with Gates in 2006, we learned that our ancestral paths had crossed. Dr. Gates’s Bruce ancestors were owned—and later freed—by my ancestor’s cousin, Abraham Van Meter of Virginia. In African American Lives 2, Gates reveals to participant Kathleen Henderson that her ancestor was owned by an Abraham Van Meter of Kentucky, a cousin to the Virginian with the same name.

“Through even greater depth of research and more powerful storytelling, all of the stories in African American Lives 2 share a common threat—they show the value of knowing who you are and where you come from,” says Gates.

African American Lives 2 airs February 6 and 13 at 9:00 p.m. (ET).