*This week’s episode of “Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates Jr.” will feature Ben Affleck finding out that his mom was a Freedom Rider, NAACP president Benjamin Jealous learning that his free great-grandfather had to purchase his own wife and family for their safety, and “Scandal” actress Khandi Alexander receiving a “book of life” that provided one shock after another.
During the hour, “Skip” Gates informs the star that her grandfather may have been murdered in the Jim Crow South. Uncovered documents showed that he was purposefully burned while working as a distiller at a rosin factory. The killing basically amounted to a workplace lynching.
But that’s not all…
Alexander also finds out that she is among the scores of black folk in America who are descendants of a white slave owner.
“We discovered Khandi Alexander’s 3rd great grandfather was a white man, and his name was John Harrison, and we were able to prove that through DNA and able to prove that through the paper trail. And John Harrison owned 150 slaves in South Carolina,” Dr. Gates told the TCA in July.
“Imagine finding out that your ancestor, your 3rd great grandpa, was actually a white man who owned your ancestor and other 149 other African Americans?” he added.
The revelation, Alexander said, cleared up years of confusion over her dad’s side of the family.
‘There was a name in my family on my father’s side – who were very light and many passed for white – there was a name that we always heard, and Skip found out the name wasn’t real, and it didn’t exist, and we don’t even know where it came from,” she said. “And so on the white side, we found out that it was Harrison. And he traced it back to England. To George Harrison. …So all of a sudden, I thought, ‘Where is my Porsche? I want a Porsche!’”
Aside from discovering her kinship to one of The Beatles, Khandi’s African roots are traced back to the motherland…back to the specific tribe of her ancestors. Since learning of the relationship, Alexander says she was inspired to support her people in a variety of ways.
“I don’t want to ruin the episode, but once Skip tells me exactly who I belong to, all of a sudden, it explodes on a global level politically,” she said. “And now I’m invested, and now I spend my personal life and my resources helping them, because I’m one of them.”
Alexander says of her experience on the show, “it changed my life.” But she was initially ambivalent when Skip first asked her to participate…because family was never important to her.
She explains below:
This week’s episode of “Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr.,” dubbed Roots of Freedom, premieres October 14th at 8 p.m. on PBS.