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Oprah Winfrey's ancestry traced to Liberia

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Peacer
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PostPosted: Mon Jan 30, 2006 6:14 pm Reply with quote Back to top

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Taking 'Roots' to a DNA level
In PBS series, black luminaries tracetheir ancestry, with revealing results
By Suzanne C. Ryan, Globe Staff | January 29, 2006

Henry Louis Gates Jr. is still a little shocked


The chairman of Harvard University's Department of African and African-American Studies has just produced a four-part series for PBS, ''African American Lives," in which DNA testing is used to trace the African ancestry of nine famous Americans, including Oprah Winfrey, Quincy Jones, and former astronaut Mae Jemison.

The series, which premieres Wednesday at 9 p.m. on WGBH-TV (Channel 2), will reveal lots of surprises, including the news that Jemison is 13 percent East Asian (''I don't even know how that happened," she says), Winfrey's people come from the rain forests of Liberia (''That is astounding," Winfrey says), and Jones's family hails from an area in Cameroon known for its music (''I would have never guessed," he marvels).

But Gates -- who at one point refers to himself as ''Captain Black Man" in the program -- can't get over his own results: He's half European.

''I'm going to have to give up my job . . . I'm descended from that African province known as Ireland or France or Northern Europe," he jokes in the series. ''I'm heartbroken."

It's been 29 years since Alex Haley riveted the country with ''Roots," the story of his search for African ancestors. That miniseries was a milestone, particularly among African-Americans for whom it is difficult to trace a family tree before the Civil War -- the US census at the time did not list slaves by name, and property records often listed them by age and gender only.

Today, in the wake of advanced technology using DNA samples, the documentary aims to demonstrate that -- with the swipe of a cotton swab inside a cheek -- African-Americans have a good chance of tracing the ethnic group they descended from in Africa.

But before blacks head overseas, Gates maintains in the show, there is plenty of personal history they can learn about their families here using modern genealogical resources like ancestry.com, an online database.

''It's important that we are able to narrate the great African-American saga through regular Negroes, and not just through famous people like Booker T. Washington," he explained last week in an interview. ''History is so much more interesting when it involves your own family. You won't find those family stories in a history book."

Gates's celebrity guests are hardly regular Joes, but their ancestors were; in the show, the professor attempts to find out how they rose from slavery.

His subjects are Whoopi Goldberg, comedian Chris Tucker, Dallas-based Bishop T.D. Jakes, Baltimore-based pediatric neurosurgeon Ben Carson, Harvard professor of education Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, as well as Winfrey, Jones, Jemison, and Gates himself.

The series, which encourages African-Americans to explore genetic testing, has raised questions in some academic circles. Elizabeth Amelia Hadley, a professor of Africana Studies at Simmons College, maintains that while finding one's lost heritage is noble, it's really a hobby for the wealthy, as evidenced by the cast list, and not a viable new way to uncover American history.

''I'm glad Chris Tucker is getting in touch with the motherland, but how many of us have the resources and time to go over there and do the research? And what purpose does it serve? Do we want to establish yet another hierarchy in the black community? We're already dealing with issues of class, ethnicity, and skin color. Now we can say, 'I'm from the Yoruba tribe. Who are you?'

''I think we're better off putting our money into improving our schools here and doing research around the AIDS epidemic," she adds.

''African American Lives" opens on Ellis Island, a place with few historical answers for African-Americans. Gates goes on to interview his famed guests one-on-one and then speaks with family members. When oral history runs dry, he turns to courthouse records, the 1870 census -- the first to list blacks as citizens, not property -- and war service records.

Eventually, Gates turns to various scientists who use DNA analysis to trace ancestral roots.

Along the way, viewers follow him from Dallas to Chicago to Los Angeles, learning details about historical events like the post-World War I great migration north and the civil rights movement.

Finally, he travels to Angola with Tucker to visit what may be the comedian's ancestral village.

Key to the series is the work of Rick Kittles, an associate professor at Ohio State University, who is cofounder of African Ancestry Inc. That firm has built a DNA database, still incomplete, of present-day African populations. Series participants used the database to cross-reference similar genetic signatures.

Gates, who spent two years on the project, was initially inspired after talking to his friend Quincy Jones one day about what he calls their mutual '' 'Roots' envy."

''We were saying how lucky Alex Haley was to go to his grave believing he had found his lost tribal ancestry," Gates recalled in the interview.

''I thought, 'Heck, using the new genetics, why don't we try?' I asked Quincy -- who wrote the score for 'Roots' -- if he would try, and he said, 'I'm in.' Oprah called a week later from Quincy's house and said she's in."

Hobbling on crutches with a broken ankle during the filming, Gates did research at the Family History Library in Utah, which houses public records for millions of people. He also visited the National Archives in Washington, which has records of black Civil War troops.

Although Gates sold the series around the concept of American blacks connecting with Africa, the professor was surprised that he and his guests responded so emotionally to the discovery of unknown ancestors here in the United States.

''Everybody knew their grandparents, but getting beyond that was quite a voyage for people," he says. ''I cried. I found out my fifth great-grandfather fought in the American Revolution. I didn't know he existed. I now have a real family tree going back to 1750. That's amazing."

T.D. Jakes, a televangelist and author of ''Woman, Thou Art Loosed," learned via DNA testing that his family lore was correct; his people come from Nigeria. ''It's kind of weird because for the last 10 years I've been increasingly focused on Africa, doing ministerial and philanthropic work there, including in Nigeria," he said in an interview. ''I went to Lagos, and I had the most odd feeling of being home. I thought, 'You look so familiar to me: your humor, your music, your food. I swear I know you from somewhere but I don't know where.' . . . My Nigerian friends are all going to say, 'See, I told you!' "

Tucker is the only guest on the program to actually travel to an African village, in Angola, where his ancestors might have once lived. His DNA test indicates a perfect match with the Mbundu people of that region.

After visiting a local slave museum, where he handles rusty shackles that once bound slaves, Tucker and Gates are directed by a historian to a region in the bush where the Mbundu people were enslaved in the early 1700s.

There, Tucker is greeted warmly in an emotional homecoming by villagers who dance for him in celebration.

''I've seen the real Africa. . . . I just fell in love with it," a clearly moved Tucker says in the series. ''There's wisdom in knowing where you're from and I know now. This is the greatest thing that has ever happened to me."

Suzanne Ryan can be reached at sryan@globe.com.
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PostPosted: Tue Jan 31, 2006 9:12 am Reply with quote Back to top

Sometime last year, Oprah had DNA test to find out where the ethnic group she descended from in Africa. Those result as she reveal, she was from the Zulu tribe of South Africa. Oprah even said herself that was why she was so drawing to the South African, when she was doing a broadcast from South Africa. Now another test is reveling she is from a unnamed tribe in Liberia. There is something wrong here.
Rinabear07
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PostPosted: Tue Jan 31, 2006 10:46 pm Reply with quote Back to top

I think people "feed" off these people's desire to find their ancestors. Their desire to "belong" is so strong that it blinds them to reality or to the fact that they are or could be scamed. I don't know what this new "craziness" is but it could be interesting to watch!
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PostPosted: Wed Feb 01, 2006 9:08 am Reply with quote Back to top

Rinabear07 wrote:
I think people "feed" off these people's desire to find their ancestors. Their desire to "belong" is so strong that it blinds them to reality or to the fact that they are or could be scamed. I don't know what this new "craziness" is but it could be interesting to watch!
Rinabear07 these people you are talking about are African Americans and we know where we belong, where you need to go, Africa.
bebe
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PostPosted: Wed Feb 01, 2006 1:08 pm Reply with quote Back to top

Well i am glad that African Americans are gradualy finding their roots. If i was an African American i will not rest till i find my roots where the people will love me and accept me, where i will be free from prejudice i will buy or built a home easily, establish businesses and be truly free............and love by all. I will also take advantage of the dual citizenship many african countries have and still keep my American status.

I dont beleive any african american descends from Liberia anyway. Because there were no slaves taken from Liberia, At the time of slave trade there was no Liberia, Liberia was founded by freed American slaves doesnt mean slaves descends from there.

Again if I was an african American and dont know or not really sure of where my ancestors actually came from I would want to go to Liberia where at least i would be sure my ancestors were taken to after they were freed. Liberia will be the clossiest i will get in finding and uniting with my people. Liberia is a beautiful country, very rich in natural resorces and also with a very unique heritage. To all african americans trust me family, you are all welcome home to Liberia a country founded by freed African American Slaves in 1847 why not go and be part of what is rightfully yours too. The Asians invest alot in Asia likewise the Europeans in europe why not African Americans investing in africa? Why sit and alow the media to fool you about africa, there is unigue side of africa that they dont show on t.v. Most companies in africa are owned by Europeans, Asians and White Americans. Why not African Americans? well the decission is yours either you find your roots or you continue to live in slavery. Because i dont see freedom in its totality.
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nicjoy26
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PostPosted: Mon Aug 21, 2006 6:24 am Reply with quote Back to top

Just to comment on the statement that Bebe had made. There are African Americans who are descendants from Liberia. I learned this in my African American Experience class. That was a good point about African Americans finding out what part of Africa they are from. I indeed would love to live their someday and help out my community. And as far as African Americans not investing in Africa--What gives you the impression that we don't???? Just because you don't hear about it on the news doesn't mean that we don't invest in Africa.

Peacer, this is a good topic. Thanks!
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Cali
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PostPosted: Fri Sep 08, 2006 6:49 am Reply with quote Back to top

Being African American has it's pros and cons.. but with the American Gov. and the Uncle Tom black's here in america it makes it hard for us to trace our roots back to Africa.
Take Oprah for instance.. they are sending her on a wild goose chase and she has buckled up for the ride.. her and other african americans.

With the mentality of americans we may never know where to look.
A big question that I would like answered is HOW IS IT THAT THE AFRICANS ARE NOT AWARE OF WHO WAS TAKEN TO AMERICA?

I mean think about it... if I live in a community/village if something were to happen to where people that I know friends, relative, who every were taken away I would remember and with that said is there no record in Africa where the names or at least the memory was kept of those that were taken on the slave ships?
sorry this is so lenghty but being an "African american" this is a real touchy subject for me.
Mainly becasue we are taught through american education that we will not be excepted by our African Borthers and Sisters and also that we were sold to the whites by Africans, our own people and on top of that when we come in contact with SOME africans that are here in america they look at us with scorn, or disappointment or the all time favorite NOT A PURE BLOOD! But being an African american was not my choice it was just the will of God... and with all the fuss its a wonder why things are the way that they are now, you get treated just the same way by the africans as the white's do us out here.

Everything Bless
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Rinabear07
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PostPosted: Tue Jan 09, 2007 10:56 pm Reply with quote Back to top

Anonymous wrote:
Rinabear07 wrote:
I think people "feed" off these people's desire to find their ancestors. Their desire to "belong" is so strong that it blinds them to reality or to the fact that they are or could be scamed. I don't know what this new "craziness" is but it could be interesting to watch!
Rinabear07 these people you are talking about are African Americans and we know where we belong, where you need to go, Africa.


Guest let me give you an English and History lesson:

1. The identifier "these" is used for more than one object; (example: these are my friends.)

Which was the context in which it was used.

2. To address the issue of "we know where we belong": if the participants in the study knew where they belonged, there would have been no need for the experiment!

Now I wonder if you know where you "belong"! Confused

3. This is just FYI : Africa is made up of 50 seperate countries, one of which is Liberia. That is where I hail from and proud of it!

See some of us would not be in America, had it not been for the "damage" caused by America in our own countries. So please don't think that America is doing anyone a "favor" by having us here!

We pay our dues and then some!

Take some Reading Comprehension courses to save you from moments like these! Embarassed
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SisiPancake
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PostPosted: Wed Jan 10, 2007 12:38 am Reply with quote Back to top

Cali..
It is not that people do not know..back it those days things were not
written down.
Nigeria suffered the same fate..I spoke with elders in my village
who could only give me information that was handed down by mouth.
What we do know is the sadness never goes away.
People's names may not be etched down in indelible ink but their
memory still lives on

@ Rina exactly. None of the western world really want us there.
But they have no option. They only wanted our ancestors there
to work the plantations. I guess they didn't really think about the
possible out come of taking our people there.
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Rinabear07
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PostPosted: Wed Jan 10, 2007 2:12 am Reply with quote Back to top

Sometimes you just have to address ignorance.
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STEVOO
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PostPosted: Wed Jan 10, 2007 5:31 am Reply with quote Back to top

Cali,you if you believe you are an AFRICAN, you should let nothing stand in the way. We AFRICANS, we are very
proud of who we are. The problem here is this, here in America, people are being labled, example, is you, African American, Italian American Irish American Just to name a few. I am a Liberian living in the USA, but a proud AFRICAN.

yOU ARE WELCOME TO AFRICA ANY DAY, BE A LIBERIAN ANY DAY

YOU 'RE WELCOME. Rose
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SisiPancake
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PostPosted: Wed Jan 10, 2007 5:49 am Reply with quote Back to top

Stevoo you hit the nail on the head.
Why does the world want to put us in little labled boxes?
And where is that country or race called *other*?

I honestly believe that inside us we know where we are from.
Forget how we got to this side.. I am more concerned about
where my final resting place will be.
My children know ..take me back home. But if no money
it's no big deal.

It is time we start facing our future and not let the western
world hold us captive with all this * where are we from* thing.

Peter Tosh sang
No matter where you come from You are an African
If your complexion low you are an African
If your complexion high you are an African
If your complexion in between you are an African.

I believe the Birth place of Mankind was as stated in the Bible
which is Eden located in Africa.

Even if you believe in the big bang theory.. and we all come
from Apes.. life still started in Africa.

So when anybody tries to oppress and suppress you , remember
The Blacks gave everyone life...Think about it.

Now you all know why I say..We know where we come from.
Nobody is lost Exclamation
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STEVOO
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PostPosted: Thu Jan 11, 2007 8:31 am Reply with quote Back to top

Sisipan, I think people are just being brain-wash, and they refused to get to know themselves. look at the make up
of the United States of America then you will understand that, you are not from here, that, you have a history to
follow through, understand that history and identify yourself as to who you are and where you come from, maybe
that will help. Idea
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uliya
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PostPosted: Thu Jan 11, 2007 9:22 am Reply with quote Back to top

I'm frrom Ukraine. The city I'm from has a big Medical Univercity. It is very popular and the best Medical Univercity in Post Soviet countries. We have many people from Africa, Middle East,and Asia.
People from my city love Africans the most. We always try to help them, and never ever somebody will say something bad in their address.
I came to the USA 1,5 year ago. It is difficalt to live without Ukrainian things here, but Ukkraine is in my heart even though Ukraine is so far.
I worked here for people who are original not from USA. The way they are acting makes me feel sick. They try to be like Americans with every part of their body. They are ashamed to tell where they are from.
I admire people who never feel ashamed to tell where they belong to.
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SisiPancake
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PostPosted: Thu Jan 11, 2007 7:03 pm Reply with quote Back to top

Uliya and Stevoo,
I love your points. Why do people pretend to be who they are not?
Infact it is an insult to our parent's when we deny our roots.
No matter where I live, I will always be me. I was brought up to
hold my head up high no matter the negative comment about
my race or country.
I wish more people will stand up and take on board what
James Brown said *I am black and proud* Cool
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