Angela Davis Is a Direct Descendant of the Mayflower
Angela Davis has become one of the most controversial figures in American history since appearing on PBS’ Finding Your Roots program and discovering that she descends directly from the Mayflower. This caused an uproar on social media; conservative commentators claimed Davis should pay reparations fees.
Davis’ discovery reveals America’s complicated and messy history. Here are a few details about her experience.
The show’s host, Henry Louis Gates Jr.
Established in 2000, Inkwell Media produces sophisticated documentary films about African-American experiences. Their Emmy-nominated series FINDING YOUR ROOTS with Henry Louis Gates Jr. has reached its ninth season on PBS; their historical series such as BLACK AMERICA SINCE MLK: AND STILL I RISE and LOOKING FOR LINCOLN have won Peabody and NAACP Image awards respectively; Gates himself holds both professorships at Harvard and is director of their Hutchins Center for African & African American Research – two Emmy award nominees that continue airing on PBS each season!
Gates applies his academic expertise to help celebrities navigate their family trees, uncovering unexpected facts. He has assisted Carol Burnett and Niecy Nash in discovering forgotten ancestors and chefs David Chang and Raul Esparza.
On February 21st, Davis’s paternal heritage was traced back to Isom Spencer – one of Alabama’s first freed slaves following the Civil War – and connected her to an attorney and legislator from Georgia and Alabama via her maternal grandfather Isom.
Though Davis found incredible information through this show about her family tree, it also demonstrated some of the difficulties associated with genealogy research for African Americans. Because many enslaved ancestors didn’t leave much trace behind when they died or moved, making it harder for researchers to track them down. Furthermore, many interracial relationships between whites and Blacks in America remain unknown to genealogists.
Gates and his team face unique difficulties while uncovering stories of African slaves on the show, so developing an ethical system to deal with these issues and address any questions or concerns is vitally important to make it accessible for African American guests to see what impact slavery had on their ancestors and descendants is vital for understanding it.
The show’s team
Finding Your Roots, the popular PBS show boasts years of genealogical research experience. Their efforts have unearthed fascinating details about prominent figures, but despite its success, researchers have also encountered controversy; one recent episode featuring political activist Angela Davis’ discovery of Mayflower ancestry received comprehensive media coverage and stirred up passionate conversations online – some positive while others critical.
Davis’ revelation of her Mayflower ancestry surprised many viewers. As a radical leftist activist who has been involved with organizations such as the Black Panther Party and Communist Party USA and taught at the University of California, Davis had in the past called on white people to pay reparations for slavery – with their discovery now sparking calls for her herself to pay reparation payments herself.
Last week’s episode in which Davis found out her ancestor had traveled on the Mayflower was met with broad public disbelief; its clips were widely shared, showing Davis visibly shocked at this news. Some used this revelation against Davis, while others applauded her bravery in advocating for civil rights.
Celebrities such as comedians Jim Acosta and Van Jones, actors Billy Crudup and Tamera Mowry-Housley, David Duchovny, and Carol Burnett have also discovered their roots through this show.
Finding Your Roots’ genealogists specialize in connecting the dots for people of color. On average, they spend 200 to 300 hours researching a guest’s ancestry; records for African ancestry tend to be harder to come by than European ones (i.e., census records can help find them while marriage or birth certificates may not).
The show also explored the complex history of interracial relationships in America, with revelations such as when Angela Davis’ Black maternal grandmother, Mollie Spencer, lived near white man Murphy Jones, whom she married illegally then.
The show’s results
PBS show Finding Your Roots recently unveiled information that civil rights activist Angela Davis’ ancestors had traveled on the Mayflower. This was an enormous surprise to Davis, who has long championed racial justice issues. Her reactions went viral online, prompting some to use them against her as evidence.
On the other hand, others also used it to support Davis’ work – becoming one of the most-viewed clips from Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s show this week. Gates informed Davis that her 10th great-grandfather had been aboard the Mayflower! This discovery proved crucial to Davis, known for her involvement with the Black Power movement of the early 70s.
This episode also provided more insights into her mother’s family history; she was the daughter of a white Alabama lawyer who served as state representative and senator, while her maternal grandfather had worked as a newspaper publisher in Goodwater. Furthermore, it revealed a distant relative who served in the Revolutionary War.
Another unexpected twist was discovering a Jewish great-grandmother in the Davis family tree. The show’s team traced this lineage back to Samuel Isom, a Jewish merchant in Georgia with links to slavery ownership and involvement with the Underground Railroad.
Social media was divided over the results, as some accused the show of racism for revealing Davis’ white ancestry. Others countered by noting how blacks and whites often have intertwined genealogies as well as sexual violence during slavery being common practice, therefore making it no surprise that Davis may have white ancestors.
No matter the controversy, it is essential to keep Davis’s DNA out of consideration when considering who she is. She is a writer and scholar who has always advocated for racial justice. She graduated from Brandeis University before studying abroad in East Germany, writing nine books, and running twice for the Communist Party vice presidential nomination. In addition, Davis is often quoted on issues like environmental preservation and prison reform.
The show’s aftermath
The show’s revelation of Davis’ white ancestry was shocking enough. Still, its second surprise was finding out her father was part of the Black activists leading the Montgomery bus boycott. This revelation underscores her complex legacy; not only was she a prominent voice within progressive politics and critical of conservative ideology for decades, but she was also instrumental in leading Black women’s civil rights struggles.
Unfortunately, this episode’s racially charged revelations have deepened Davis’s conundrum. Conservatives like Matt Walsh – who openly mocks her – and Christopher Rufo (an artist rewriting history by asserting that Black women have always been victims of systemic racism) have used Davis’s ancestry as evidence that she should not advocate for Black people.
That is unfortunate because Davis is an important voice. A public figure for five decades, Davis has championed social justice through challenging America’s racist past. Her career argues against America’s legacy of racism as she tirelessly advocates for its future. Davis remains an irrefutable scholar, activist, and passionate voice for social justice.
Conservatives who try to suggest that her DNA disqualifies her as an advocate for racial equality are engaging in another attempt at censorship aimed at criminalizing Black history education and delegitimization teaching it.
“Finding Your Roots” recently made headlines for uncovering Joe Manganiello’s tragic heritage as an ancestor who served in Confederate spy operations; Don Lemon discovered his Black grandmother had family members enslaved to her, but perhaps Davis is the most shocking revelation as she shared this incredible news with her family – reminding us all that our country’s tragic legacy belongs not only to its morally pure white founders but to millions of Black Americans as well.