This past Tuesday, Henry Louis Gates Jr. premiered the second season of his PBS series “Finding Your Roots” at the MOMA on his birthday.


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When asked about the inspiration behind the show, Gates said, “I became addicted to genealogy when I was nine years old, it was the day we buried my father’s father and he looked like a white man … I couldn’t understand how someone so phenotypically white could have a descendant who looks like me.” This curiosity is what sparked Gates’ lifelong pursuit of the past and subsequently led to the creation of “Finding Your Roots.”

This episode of the second season includes news correspondent Anderson Cooper, director Ken Burns and playwright Anna Deavere Smith. The show focuses on each individual’s past while seamlessly tying all three together. Even if you’re not a history buff you’ll be intrigued and surprised by what the show has in store. It seems that all three figures had ancestors involved in the civil war. While Cooper and Burn’s ancestors owned slaves and fought for the confederacy, Smith’s ancestor Basil Biggs was an active agent in the Underground Railroad. However, Burns discovers he is a distant relative of Abraham Lincoln and therefore had ancestors fighting on both sides of the war. Anderson Cooper was distressed by the acts of his ancestors, even ashamed, but had no choice but to accept the past. As did Burns who said that he’s not defending the acts of his confederate ancestors, but rather accepting the past as reality and striving to do better.

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Former NFL Giant Harry Carson was one of the many friends present at the premiere and shared a similar sentiment when asked about the recent violence regarding the NFL. Carson said, “I don’t condone anything that has happened …When my daughter’s mother pushed my buttons I exploded and I understood that I shouldn’t be where I was and separated myself and moved on with the rest of my life.” Through his show, Henry Gates Jr. demonstrates that retrospection is a powerful tool that allows us to gain insight and grow as we learn from our past.

After the screening, guests headed to China Grill for a fiesta. Ford is supporting the airing of the second season of “Finding Your Roots” with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. As part of Ford’s support, the Ford brand has created an original digital content series that will launch on YouTube on Tuesday, Sept. 23. The 10-part series will highlight individual user stories as the featured guests share the impact their family history has had on their lives. Be sure to tune in Tuesdays at 8 p.m., starting September 23rd.

-Nishat Baig

Photo Credit: Nishat Baig

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