Some Free Faces of America

This week, three excerpts have one up online from Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s Faces of America: How 12 Extraordinary People Discovered their Pasts.

Malcolm Gladwell, at The Root.
This means that Malcolm’s fifth-great-grandmother, a free woman of color, owned slaves. She even spelled one of them out by name, leaving her slave “Ruthie” to her grandson, Malcolm’s third-great-grandfather Benjamin Samuel Levy, another free man of color.

“Oh my goodness,” said Malcolm, stunned. “The kind of mental jujitsu you have to go through is quite remarkable. It was a class-based society, and so color was class, class was color. There it is. How far back in her history do we have to go, do we think, to find a slave? Her mother or maybe her grandmother?”

Malcolm quite correctly perceived Margaret’s decision to own slaves as a class issue. “I’m assuming it’s a way of underscoring your new status,” he said. “If you are a member of this special privileged class and you would like to heighten your position and assert your whiteness, having a slave is certainly one sign of doing that, isn’t it?”

The answer to that question is, of course, yes.

Mike Nichols, at The Daily Beast.
“I’ve never heard about these people,” Mike said, looking solemnly at the execution lists published in Russian newspapers, complete with photographs of the executed. “It all died with my father. But I’m so used to knowing that I’m beyond lucky—it’s like a joke, this luck. And what a putz to ever have complained of anything for even a moment.”

Elizabeth Alexander, also at The Root.
When Chambers died in 1832, the inventory of his estate listed all his slaves. On the list is a boy named Edward, age two and a half years, valued at forty pounds (which would be about forty-five hundred dollars today). Incredibly, this two-and-a-half-year-old boy is Elizabeth’s great-great-grandfather. “My God,” said Elizabeth, looking at the record. “When you see in black and white what it is to be valued as property when you’re a toddler — I’m sorry, but that’s hard to take.”

Publishers Weekly Loves the Faces of America

From the 5/24/10 issue of Publishers Weekly

Faces of America: How 12 Extraordinary People Discovered Their Pasts
Henry Louis Gates Jr. , New York Univ. Press
Mitochondrial DNA, passed from mother to child, provides, upon close examination, a record of ancient migration patterns and family groupings. It is what links groups of human beings to each other and it is one of many genetic mysteries that motivated Harvard professor Gates to unravel the historical and genetic past of 12 celebrities, artists, and intellectuals in this follow-up to a previous examination of notable African-Americans. Based on the PBS series of the same name hosted by the author, the book is a deceptively breezy read that contains profound revelations on race, on biology vs. social constructs, and how ancestry can subtly (or resoundingly) manifest itself. There are surprises–he finds a common ancestor between Queen Noor of Jordan and African-American academic Elizabeth Alexander; both are 37th great-granddaughters of Charlemagne–and in getting such subjects as Mike Nichols to open up about their pasts, he finds how powerfully the past informs the present. Gates offers a book stuffed with epiphanies that will spark curiosity among readers about their own ancestry as well as their possible connections to each other. (Aug.)
Mitochondrial DNA, passed from mother to child, provides, upon close examination, a record of ancient migration patterns and family groupings. It is what links groups of human beings to each other and it is one of many genetic mysteries that motivated Harvard professor Gates to unravel the historical and genetic past of 12 celebrities, artists, and intellectuals in this follow-up to a previous examination of notable African-Americans. Based on the PBS series of the same name hosted by the author, the book is a deceptively breezy read that contains profound revelations on race, on biology vs. social constructs, and how ancestry can subtly (or resoundingly) manifest itself. There are surprises–he finds a common ancestor between Queen Noor of Jordan and African-American academic Elizabeth Alexander; both are 37th great-granddaughters of Charlemagne–and in getting such subjects as Mike Nichols to open up about their pasts, he finds how powerfully the past informs the present. Gates offers a book stuffed with epiphanies that will spark curiosity among readers about their own ancestry as well as their possible connections to each other. (Aug.)

NYU Press to Publish Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s “Faces of America”


NYU Press is excited to announce that it will be publishing the companion book to the PBS Series “Faces of America,” which you can see on your local PBS station every Wednesday at 8pm. We are excited to be working with Professor Gates to bring the detailed genetic narratives of 12 important Americans to the printed page. You can read the NYTimes review of the series, and watch Gates talk to Stephen Colbert (one of the 12 people profiled in the book) on the Colbert Report:

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
www.colbertnation.com
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