Tuesday, 12 May 2015
Slaveowner Ancestors, Part 1
Do you like watching those TV shows tracing the ancestry of various celebrities? I do, because both history and genealogy are interests of mine. Recently there was a news story about how Ben Affleck had persuaded the makers of PBS's Finding Your Roots not to mention his slaveowning American ancestors which the show had uncovered. He felt ashamed about his family's connection to the odious institution of slavery and did not want it to reflect negatively on him and his image today.
But facts are facts. In my opinion, it does an injustice to history (both national and personal) to hide or deny the truth. I suspect there are very few white Americans from old families who would not find slaveowners among their forebears. Descendants have to come to terms with the terrible way in which slavery benefitted their family's material well-being and advancement.
By way of contrast, I just finished watching the current season of TLC's Who Do You Think You Are? which also featured a couple of celebrities who discovered slaveowner ancestors -- Tom Paxton and Melissa Etheridge. They handled it very differently than Ben Affleck. Both were subdued and saddened to learn of slave ownership in their families but recognized that such hard historical truths were common in the times under investigation. They did not attempt to suppress that information being made public. Neither one celebrated this shortcoming of their ancestors but (quite rightly) also did not take the blame or shame of it upon themselves.
This issue is of personal interest to me because I have at least one slaveowner ancestor of whom I'm aware. I'll tell you his story in my next post.