When Henry Louis Gates Jr. was nine-years-old he made the mistake of laughing at how white his grandfather looked in his coffin.
“He was so white we called him ‘Casper'”, Gates told a room of hundreds at a lecture tonight commemorating the Newark Library’s 125th anniversary.
But he would soon learn why there was nothing funny about his grandfather’s light complexion.
After the funeral, Gates’ father marched him up to his grandfather’s bedroom and showed him a picture of his ancestor, Jane Gates.
“She was a slave. She was a midwife,” Gates said. His father told him, “I never want you to forget who you are or where you come from.”
Since then Gates, one of the country’s preeminent scholars on black culture, has shared his singular obsession with genealogy with over 24 million viewers on the popular PBS series “Finding Your Roots.”
Through DNA testing and anthropological research Gates has tested Quincy Jones, Oprah Winfrey and Newark’s own Mayor Cory Booker.
The Harvard professor and first black man to receive the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Fellowship, regaled the standing-room-only crowd with some genealogical facts about African Americans that stunned even the most wizened patrons.
Booker himself was descended on his mother’s side from a white doctor. On the show, Gates united Booker’s mother, Carolyn Booker with some of her white cousins.
But Newark’s mayor is not alone. According to Gates’ research, the average African American man is about 30 to 35 percent white, thanks in large part to white slave-owners forcing sex on their slaves.
Of the 12 million slaves brought from Africa to the Americas between 1501 and 1870, only about 400,000 came from Africa to North America. Those slaves descended from about 50 tribes…
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