Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Return of "Finding Your Roots with Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr."

Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr.
(Courtesy of Peter Simon)
Finding Your Roots with Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. kicks off its second season on PBS, Tuesday, September 23 (8-9 ET), with stories as compelling as those airing last time. The season premiere, “In Search of Our Fathers,” traces the roots of novelist  Stephen King and actors Gloria Reuben and Courtney Vance. The common thread shared by the three celebrities is that each knew virtually nothing about their paternal ancestry.

King, who was a child when his father abandoned the family, had always been curious but cautious about the past. “My mother had a saying, ‘Peek not at a knothole lest ye be vexed,’ he explains. “If you look too closely you might see something you don’t like.” But what Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. reveals about King’s roots is no horror story. The family name—King—as it turns out, was an alias used by his father.

Canadian Gloria Reuben’s Jamaican father was 73 at her birth. He died when she was a child, leaving few clues about his background. She had questions about their surname, wondering if it was of Jewish origin. Reuben also learns the name of one of her mother’s African-born slave ancestors.

Gloria Reuben
(Courtesy of ABC/Heidi Gutman)
Unlike King and Reuben, Courtney Vance knew his father well. Vance was 30 when his father committed suicide, having said little about his own past as a foster child. This story involved a court case, with Gates turning to DNA testing to find answers. And like Reuben, Vance learns about his enslaved ancestors.

All three stories also touch on slavery. “Taken together,” says Gates, “these stories of Stephen, Gloria, and Courtney show us just how profoundly discovery of long-lost ancestors can reshape our identities today.”

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