I confess to having been less than impressed with Professor Gates during the Gates/Cambridge cop "crisis" of a few years back. I don't think it was his finest moment. Neither was it the president's finest moment, now repeated in the Zimmerman/Martin affair.
I never knew a lot about my ancestry. There were bits and pieces of family mythology. Much of this has proven to be wrong in the light of my wife's commitment to genealogical research centered on the internet. Incidentally, if you have a subscription to "ancestry.com," you can access our "tree." It is the Lang/Lessard tree.
From my wife's research I learned that contrary to family myth my family had no Indian blood, were evidently ardent Abolitionists who served in the Union Army, and were afflicted with the "wandering gene" that drove them from the eastern seaboard in New England and New France in the early 17th Century to the Pacific rim of North America by 1900.
I have a continuing political "problem" with those who have mixed emotions involving at least some loyalty to the "old country (ies)" For that reason I asked my wife to see if she could find me a rabbi or two among the centuries. So far, no luck.
Now we have these two television progams devoted to genealogy. I think they are marvelous. What they demonstrate is the pattern of relations and richness of our North American people. There is a certain amount of picking and choosing in the "lines" researched on the shows, but ground truth is emerging about the people who are featured and the people they came from.
It should be said that I am adamant in thinking that one's outcome in life should not be governed by ancestry, and indeed, WASPness has become a bit of a hindrance.
IMO, race relationships between "Black" and "White" Americans are the central themes of US history just as the WBS is the central set of events. I know that some think that the ratification of the Constitution brought an end to anything but US national history, but I disagree. William Falukner sided with me. We are a majority. Democracy rules. Read "The Bear" for a start in understanding, Read all of " The Bear."
It is amusing that some of the subjects prefer parts of their ancestry to other parts. Kyra Sedgwick prefers her mother's Jewish family to that of her father's Puritan Yankee Sedgwick line. African-Americans generally do not seem to want a face put on their European ancestors. This is foolish. We are who we are.
Doctor Gates seems to have an agenda. I think it is a good agenda. He seems to want us all, ALL, to acknowledge the truth about how complicated the past really is and that even though many things in the past, like slavery, were bad, everything that happened then was not bad. He also wants us to know that people are complex and very capable of doing things that seem mutually inreconcilable. Lincoln was like that. As late as 1862 he told Black leaders that they should go "home" to Africa when liberated.
The programs that involve Black people are the most significant. Gates demonstrates through DNA scholarship that almost all African-Americans are significantly White and often at least half white. Hardly any of them have any significant amount of Indian blood. We are not two peoples, "Black and White." We are one people.
Black reaction to this "news" varies from the sublime to the absurd. It has been demonstrated in some of these programs that some Black subjects had ancestors who owned slaves, or who were free people before the American Revolutionm (and owned slaves) or who served with the Confederate forces as civilian employees and drew pensions from the former Rebel states for that service.
Reaction from Blacks has been mostly disappointing. The best was that of the sublime John Lewis, Democrat of Georgia, who learned that the owner of his Civil War era ancestors left substantial resources to his former slaves in his will stating that "my own children can make their way, but these must be provided for..." (paraphrasing). When asked by Gates why the man would have done that, Lewis said, "Well, they were family..." The most egregious Black reaction I have seen thus far was that of Lionel Richie who, when he "learned " that a really distinguished ancestor had been both a founder of a major Black welfare group and a recipient of a Confederate pension from Tennessee, simply did not take note of the Confederate part of the story. In fact the ancestor was with the Confederate Army as a contract employee as "servant" (orderly) for a White man named, "Morgan Brown" who was either his father or his half brother. The "Black" ancestor served for four years with the Confederate Army of Tennessee. Such employees were normally armed and uniformed. They could have deserted whenenever they wished. In recounting this story to his children in the presence of his Italian looking sister, Richie just ignored the white ancestors. Shame over rape? Well, if that works for you, so be it.
BTW, the sevrice of such Black Confederates is now well documented by such scholars as Dr. Edward Smith of American University. How many were there? I estimate the number as around 10,000.
The most disappointing reaction of all was that of the White people in Louisiana who would not submit to a DNA test to confirm their relationship to Dr. Canada, the public schools chief in New York City. For shame! The truth shall make us free,
Keep it up Dr. Gates. I would call you, "Skip," but would not presume. pl