In search of our roots How 19 extraordinary African Americans reclaimed their past

Henry Louis Gates

Book - 2009

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Location Call Number   Status
2nd Floor 973.00496/Gates Checked In
New York : Crown Publishers c2009.
1st ed
Physical Description
viii, 438 p. : ill., ports. ; 25 cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
Main Author
Henry Louis Gates (-)
  • Introduction: family matters
  • Prefatory notes on the African slave trade
  • Maya Angelou
  • Quincy Jones
  • Morgan Freeman
  • Tina Turner
  • Peter J. Gomes
  • Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot
  • Tom Joyner
  • Benjamin Carson
  • Oprah Winfrey
  • Whoopi Goldberg
  • Mae Jemison
  • T. D. Jakes
  • Linda Johnson Rice
  • Kathleen Henderson
  • Jackie Joyner-Kersee
  • Don Cheadle
  • Chris Rock
  • Bliss Broyard
  • Chris Tucker
  • How to trace your own roots.
Review by Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* Following up on the PBS series tracing the genealogy of 19 prominent African Americans, Gates details the long and arduous efforts given the abrupt disruption of the Middle Passage and the secrets created by illicit race mixing during and after slavery. In each chapter, he highlights the personal family history of each subject and the particular challenges of tracing the family s roots. Photographs and personal recollections of family stories add to the fascinating detail as Gates reveals to the subjects the results of searching genealogical records and using DNA testing to find their specific African origins. Among those whose roots he traced are Oprah Winfrey, Maya Angelou, Morgan Freeman, Tina Turner, Quincy Jones, and Peter Gomes, all of whom recall cherished family legends and intimate secrets. Gates puts each search in the broader context of African American and American history with an appreciation for the texture of the lives of ordinary people in contributing to the history of a nation and the complexity of race. The final chapter offers sound advice and insight on conducting genealogical research. Gates famous enthusiasm for history and African American genealogy is evident throughout this fascinating book. Copyright 2008 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Inspired by the PBS documentary African American Lives, which he narrated, Gates chats with the likes of Beyonce and Quincy Jones about their family history. Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Harvard historian Gates argues that family history has a special place in African American culture, in part because the American institution of slavery allowed for the creation of precious few records of African Americans' lives. By detailing individuals' stories, he writes, we may tell an important part of the larger American story. In these genealogies, Gates uses the search for the family history of 19 notable African Americans to form a narrative that goes beyond family lore. He illuminates the technical challenges of tracing African Americans' roots, but he also shares his famous subjects' memories and reflections about their families' reticence in discussing slavery or telling ancestors' stories about it. These elements combine in an intelligent narrative that will be accessible even to those who aren't genealogists. A closing chapter introduces some of the tools and methods for African American genealogical research, with bibliographic sources. This book is an able companion to the PBS series Gates hosted, but it stands on its own as well. Essential for genealogy collections; recommended for all public and high school libraries.—Emily-Jane Dawson, Multnomah Cty. Lib., Portland, OR [Page 105]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

In this companion book to a two-part PBS series, Gates (Colored People) combines rigorous historical research with DNA analysis to recreate the family trees of African-American celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and Quincy Jones, as well as intellectuals, authors, comedians, musicians and athletes. Most of the subjects knew very little about ancestors as recent as grandparents, to say nothing of the information DNA results provided about their African and European ancestry. Gates connects gaps in ancestral knowledge to the fundamental evil of the American slave era, when slave owners and sellers purposely "robbed black human beings of... all aspects of civilization that make a human being 'human': names, birth dates, family ties." Though the book relies too heavily on the notion that knowing one's ancestry leads to a better understanding of aspects of one's own personality, Gates proves in case after case that the past brings itself to bear on the present. In Chris Rock's case, had he known he had a 19th-century ancestor who had served as a South Carolina legislator, "it might have taken away the inevitability that I was going to be nothing." (Jan.) [Page 44]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

The distinguished scholar examines the origins and history of African-American ancestry as he profiles nineteen noted African Americans and illuminates their individual family sagas throughout U.S. history.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

The distinguished scholar examines the origins and history of African-American ancestry as he profiles nineteen noted African Americans--Oprah Winfrey, Maya Angelou, Quincy Jones, Sidney Poitier, and others--and illuminates their individual family sagas throughout U.S. history, the tragedy of slavery, and their African roots. 50,000 first printing.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

Unlike most white Americans who, if they are so inclined, can search their ancestral records, identifying who among their forebears was the first to set foot on this country&;s shores, most African Americans, in tracing their family&;s past, encounter a series of daunting obstacles. Slavery was a brutally efficient nullifier of identity, willfully denying black men and women even their names. Yet, from that legacy of slavery, there have sprung generations who&;ve struggled, thrived, and lived extraordinary lives. For too long, African Americans&; family trees have been barren of branches, but, very recently, advanced genetic testing techniques, combined with archival research, have begun to fill in the gaps. Here, scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr., backed by an elite team of geneticists and researchers, takes nineteen extraordinary African Americans on a once unimaginable journey, tracing family sagas through U.S. history and back to Africa. Those whose recovered pasts collectively form an African American &;people&;s history&; of the United States include celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey, Whoopi Goldberg, Chris Rock, Don Cheadle, Chris Tucker, Morgan Freeman, Tina Turner, and Quincy Jones; writers such as Maya Angelou and Bliss Broyard; leading thinkers such as Harvard divinity professor Peter Gomes, the Reverend T. D. Jakes, neurosurgeon Ben Carson, and sociologist Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot; and famous achievers such as astronaut Mae Jemison, media personality Tom Joyner, decathlete Jackie Joyner-Kersee, and Ebony and Jet publisher Linda Johnson Rice. More than a work of history, In Search of Our Roots is a book of revelatory importance that, for the first time, brings to light the lives of ordinary men and women who, by courageous example, blazed a path for their famous descendants. For a reader, there is the stirring pleasure of witnessing long-forgotten struggles and triumphs&;but there&;s an enduring reward as well. In accompanying the nineteen contemporary achievers on their journey into the past and meeting their remarkable forebears, we come to know ourselves.