House Speaker Paul Ryan participated in the upcoming 5th season of PBS’s Finding Your Roots and discovered he is 3% Ashkenazi Jewish “which about knocked his head off, to tell you the truth,” Henry Louis Gates Jr. gleefully told TV critics at TCA.
Participants in the new season, launching January 8, also include Seth Meyers, Sarah Silverman, Christiane Amanpour, Michael Moore, and Sen. Mark Rubio.
S. Epatha Merkerson learned her third-great grandfather had been held in slavery by Jesuit priests at Georgetown University who, in 1838, sold 273 of those slaves to get out of a financial difficulty.
Talk-show host/activist Joe Madison’s ancestors include a victim of the infamous Tuskegee Syphilis Study, who was nearly removed from the deadly study because the government determined him to be “almost white.”
Tig Notaro discovered a relative was killed in a bar fire in New Orleans French Quarter, and that she’s related to Gloria Steinem.
And Ann Curry learns the identity of her biological paternal grandfather, too late for her dad, who died without knowing who was his father.
“What was most painful to me was knowing they were enslaved on land that was owned by the Catholic church, and the pope had sanctioned their selling to keep Georgetown University afloat,” Merkerson came to TCA to tell TV critics.
Madison told the TV critics about getting a phone call from Gates that began with being told he could back out of participating in the show if he wanted to, but that the man he thought for more than 60 years to be his father is not, in fact, his biological father. Additionally, he learned, he has three brothers of whom he was unaware, including one with whom he went to elementary and high school. When they finally met, Madison joked, he was tempted to break out with the Temptations tune “Papa Was A Rolling Stone.”
“I started the series so black people could find out from what ethnic group they were from in Africa,” Gates said. “So what do you do when you find out that someone’s father is not their father?…This is not Maury Povich.”
Gates also reported telling Notaro one of her ancestors was murdered in a bar in the French Quarter. Notaro reminded him he had used the word “assassinate” because the ancestor was a political figure. Her great grandfather was the mayor of New Orleans, which she knew because her family talks about it every day. “You can always wedge it into some conversation,” she snarked.
Asked how these stories could inform the discussion in the country right now about the value of immigrants, Gates responded, “We are a nation of immigrants. We are all a nation of the other. And, through, DNA, we’re all related at the level of the genome. There is no such thing as the white supremacist fantasy of racial purity. It does not exist.”