From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. 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.)
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*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. --Vanessa Bush