GATES: I'm Henry Louis Gates, Jr., welcome to "Finding Your Roots".
In this episode, we'll meet activist Brittany Packnett Cunningham, and law professor Anita Hill.
Two women who have made profound sacrifices for social justice, are about to discover the ancestors who made sacrifices for them.
PACKNETT: I didn't even know that anything was missing until I realized what wasn't there.
HILL: It goes to something deep inside me that feels like I'm connected.
GATES: To uncover their roots, we've used every tool available.
Genealogists helped stitch together the past from the paper trail their ancestors left behind.
That is stunning!
GATES: While DNA experts utilized the latest advances in genetic analysis to reveal secrets hundreds of years old.
HILL: Are you kidding?
GATES: And we've compiled it all into a book of life, a record of all of our discoveries.
PACKNETT: Oh my gosh!
So you found my grandfather!
GATES: And a window into the hidden past.
HILL: It just feels so good and so important, it just feels like a hole has been filled.
PACKNETT: It's like finding yourself.
GATES: My two guests came to me with fundamental questions about their family trees.
In this episode, we're going to give them the answers they've been searching for, using a pioneering combination of genetics and genealogy.
Along the way, each will meet ancestors whose identities they never even imagined, and each will see themselves, and our nation's history in an entirely new light.
(theme music plays).
♪ ♪ GATES: Anita Hill needs no introduction.
She's a vital part of our nation's history.
In 1991, when she testified, reluctantly, about the sexual harassment she'd allegedly endured while working for Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, her's was a lone voice, seemingly calling out from the wilderness.
HILL: Telling the world is the most difficult experience of my life GATES: Today, she's a feminist icon, and a hero to generations.
But her story begins in an unlikely place, far from the spotlight.
Anita was born in the tiny town of Okmulgee, Oklahoma, the youngest of 13 siblings.
Her parents were farmers, and she was raised without running water or indoor plumbing until she was 12 years old.
Even so, she wasn't limited by her circumstances.
Quite the opposite.
HILL: It was isolated.
But it didn't feel isolated.
Uh... GATES: Well, you had siblings.
HILL: I had my siblings, and my family believed in the future, and my mother in particular.
My mother was, you know, this person who said, I want to make sure every one of my children has a chance to go to college and later in life, when I was talking with her about it, she said, um, it was because she didn't.
And she really did believe that in order to prepare for the future, in a, in a way, the future that didn't really exist, it was, you know, just an imagination of what the future would be like, she wanted us to be ready for it if it happened.
GATES: It's hard to believe that even Anita's mother could have imagined the future that lay in front of her.
In a matter of years, Anita went from being the valedictorian of her local high school, to a graduate of the Yale School of Law, to working at the United States' Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights to sitting down for a grilling by an all-white, all-male senate judiciary committee.
At each step, she faced, and overcame, seemingly insurmountable challenges.
But the greatest challenge of all was yet to come.
Most of the people polled, regardless of race and gender, believed that Clarence Thomas should still be confirmed to the Supreme Court after your testimony.
And even Black people, uh, in the Black community, like, well, it's a brother, you know, we have to defend the brother.
How did that make you feel?
HILL: It hurt to know that people didn't believe me, uh, but maybe it's because I'm a, somewhat of an optimist, I was happy that, um, you know, a third of the people did.
HILL: And, and, I was naïve about the resistance to this idea of women, uh, uh, having these experiences, and even, even if they had the experiences, telling about it.
HILL: So, I was coming up against two, uh, social pressures, one to, first of all, just deny that I had it, and, and even if I acknowledged that I had it, uh, I was supposed to never tell about it.
And so, even, so, that, as I said, well, if a third of people do believe it, then that's progress.
GATES: Anita's optimism would prove prescient.
In the decades since she risked so much to give her testimony, the world and the workplace have changed dramatically.
And Anita is now seen as a harbinger of these changes.
Today she's a distinguished law professor, and an outspoken advocate for a wide range of issues surrounding racial and gender equality.
Fittingly, in 2020, Time magazine named her one of the most influential women of the past century.
Looking back at everything you've accomplished, what are you proudest of?
HILL: I, I'm proudest of staying in the struggle for 30 years.
I was 35 when I started.
I thought I would give the issues a couple of years, and I thought it was gonna be about sexual harassment, and it's grown.
I've grown, and grown in my understanding, and in my ability to include more people who are suffering, and to see beyond, uh, my own experience, not just sort of, uh, to dismiss it, but to understand how it's connected to the experiences that people are having today, that they need help with.
GATES: Much like Anita, my second guest, Brittany Packnett Cunningham, has devoted her life to the struggle for equality.
But where Anita has often worked behind the scenes, Brittany has been on the front lines, as an activist and an organizer.
It's a role she was born to play.
Growing up, Brittany's mother was a social worker, and her father was the pastor of Central Baptist Church in St. Louis, a congregation with deep ties to the civil rights movement.
Their influence shaped Brittany to her core.
So you had to go to church every Sunday?
PACKNETT: Every Sunday, and then again on Wednesday, and then again on Saturday, and then sometimes Tuesdays.
GATES: But didn't it make you want to rebel?
I mean, be bad, like your father was a preacher?
Like go steal some crayons or?
But I, I think what I remember so much was that it made me want to be committed.
I think even at a young age it gave me a lot of excitement and curiosity and desire to just dive in.
GATES: Brittany's desire to "commit" came to a head at a pivotal moment in our country's long troubled racial history.
On August 9, 2014, Michael Brown, an unarmed teenager, was killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, just miles from Brittany's childhood home.
Brittany was on a trip to Kansas City with her mother when she heard the news that would forever change her life.
PACKNETT: I got on Instagram and I saw a picture of a man holding up a cardboard sign that said Ferguson Police Department just killed my unarmed son.
PACKNETT: It turned out it was Michael Brown's stepdad, and I was like, Ferguson, Missouri?
Like, from the crib?
Down the street?
Like, where Miss Patrice used to braid my hair?
Wait a minute.
So then I got on Twitter because the news wasn't saying anything about it.
I got on Twitter and started to see more.
And I said to my mom, I said, I said, "we have to go."
PACKNETT: I said, "I don't exactly know where we're walking back home to."
She said, "well, is there a meeting you're being asked to come to?"
I said, "no."
I said, "I don't know, but I just know I need, we need to be home."
PACKNETT: And I need to be there.
GATES: In the wake of Brown's murder, Brittany became heavily involved in the demonstrations of the burgeoning Black Lives Matter movement.
Shortly thereafter, she was named to President Obama's task force for 21st century policing.
And in 2015, she co-founded Campaign Zero, with the goal of eliminating police violence in the United States.
It's a goal that we have not yet come close to meeting, but Brittany remains undeterred.
PACKNETT: We know from data that other nations similar to ours in size and scope and history and wealth, um, are able to not kill anybody by police.
GATES: It doesn't have to be this way.
PACKNETT: It actually does not have to be this way.
PACKNETT: Um, the good news is there are people throughout history who have seen things as they can be and not as they are, and then went and created them.
PACKNETT: And that's exactly what we're trying to do.
GATES: You have to believe that over time... PACKNETT: That's right.
GATES: At the arc of the moral universe... PACKNETT: It's long, but it bends toward justice.
GATES: You have to believe that.
GATES: After spending time with my guests, it was clear that Brittany and Anita had both been shaped by the values of their families.
Now, each was about to take a journey that would dramatically expand their understanding of those families, and the origins of the values that they had inherited.
We started with Brittany and her father, the reverend Ronald Broadnox Packnett.
Tragically, Ronald passed away when Brittany was just 12, and she's still grappling with his absence, even as she follows in his footsteps.
GATES: What do you think he would make of your choice to be an activist and the success you've had as an activist?
PACKNETT: I hope he'd be proud.
Um, I think he'd have a lot of opinions.
I think I'd have a backseat organizer with me at all times if he were still here.
Um, probably not backseat, front seat, to be honest with you.
Um, I think he would be, I hope that he would see very clearly the profound impact that he had on raising a free and proud Black girl.
GATES: Though Ronald's influence on Brittany is clear, he's also at the center of a mystery that has haunted her since her childhood.
Ronald grew up without a father, and Brittany has long yearned to learn the identity of her grandfather, whoever he may be.
PACKNETT: I literally only know of one story that I heard my dad tell from the pulpit.
Can you tell me that?
PACKNETT: He saw his father, they were estranged, um, he saw his father standing on a street corner and he was inebriated, drunk, and kind of generally pointing in my dad's direction and said, "that's my son."
PACKNETT: And I don't know if that's how he found out that that was his father, but that's all I ever knew about my grandfather.
GATES: And what are you hoping to find out?
PACKNETT: I just want to know who he was.
Um, my grandmother, uh, my dad's mom, Mamie, was a firecracker and incredibly strong.
PACKNETT: But I just, I want to know the other half of my dad.
GATES: To answer Brittany's questions, we focused first on this one story that she had heard about her grandfather.
It stemmed from a rumor in the Chicago neighborhood where her father was born, it turned out to be false.
Brittany's grandfather was not a drunk on the street.
But to find out his true identity would require some intense DNA detective work.
To start our search, we had Brittany and her mother take DNA tests, then we compared their results with the DNA of people in publicly-available databases.
We discovered that Brittany matched someone who shares about 7.5% of her DNA, meaning the two have a close common ancestor.
An ancestor whose relationship to Brittany could not be immediately explained.
What's more, this match did not share any of Brittany's mother's DNA.
So the relationship had to be on her father's side.
GATES: We live for a moment like this.
We live for a match like this.
GATES: This is the beginning.
That match must be related to you through your unknown paternal grandfather.
PACKNETT: Oh my gosh.
Oh my gosh.
GATES: Could you please turn the page?
Now, Brittany, based on the analysis that we did, we determined that you and this match are related through the match's father, a man named Ronald Coble.
C-o-b-l-e. Do you see him there on that tree?
I've never heard the Coble name in my life.
GATES: Ronald Coble is your father's uncle.
GATES: His parents are listed there, right above him.
They are your father's grandparents.
You have just met your great-grandparents.
PACKNETT: Oh my gosh.
GATES: Would you please read their names?
PACKNETT: "Adolphus, Adolf, James Coble, Sr. Lucille Georgia Daniels."
GATES: What's it like to learn this?
PACKNETT: It's like finding yourself.
I mean, I had just never even tried to find any of them.
PACKNETT: Because I had no way to.
PACKNETT: And my dad wasn't here to help me fill any of the blanks in.
PACKNETT: And it sounds like he had plenty of blanks himself.
GATES: We were now very close to solving the mystery.
Records revealed that Adolphus and Lucille had two sons.
One of them was named Ronald Coble, Brittany's great uncle.
Leading us to an inescapable conclusion.
This means that Adolphus and Lucille's other son... PACKNETT: Is my grandfather.
GATES: Is your father's father, your grandfather.
Could you please turn the page?
PACKNETT: This is him?
Oh my gosh.
What's his name?
GATES: Adolphus James Coble, Jr. GATES: You are looking at your grandfather.
PACKNETT: Oh goodness.
GATES: What's it like to know his name and to see his face finally after all these years?
PACKNETT: It is such a gift.
My dad was such a doting father.
My mom always said he spoiled us too much, and the older I've gotten I realize it's because he was trying to do everything his dad didn't do.
PACKNETT: And I wish they would have known each other.
But I still am, like, so grateful that he made my dad.
GATES: Brittany's grandfather, who went by his middle name, "James", was born in Texas in 1925.
By 1950, he was married and living in Los Angeles, which raised a question: how did he meet Brittany's grandmother Mamie Packnett?
Try as we might, we just couldn't connect the two.
We knew that Mamie gave birth to Brittany's father in Chicago in 1951.
But we could find no evidence that James was anywhere near Chicago nine months before that.
Then we noticed that Mamie had at least six siblings living in Los Angeles at the time her son was conceived, and all of them lived in the same neighborhood as James!
Suggesting that Mamie may well have met James while visiting one of her siblings.
This wasn't even a figment of my imagination.
It's not as though there was a story there... GATES: Uh-huh.
PACKNETT: And there were holes to fill in.
There was no story.
PACKNETT: Because I did not know anything about my grandfather, and so then for the story to be this dramatic... GATES: Mm.
PACKNETT: I've got so many questions.
I don't even know if my grandmother knew that... GATES: Mm-hmm.
PACKNETT: That was my dad's dad.
PACKNETT: I don't think my dad knew that that was his dad.
PACKNETT: I don't, I wonder if James knew that my dad existed.
GATES: He might not have.
You know, you could, a party, one night stand, you know?
You just don't know.
PACKNETT: You really don't know.
You really don't know.
GATES: But a 70-year-old mystery has been solved.
GATES: Brittany wanted to know what happened to her grandfather.
We found the answer, sadly, on his death certificate.
PACKNETT: Place of death, Los Angeles, California.
Informant, Claudia Wallace.
Cause of death, stab wound of chest with hemorrhage.
At home during an altercation."
GATES: Your grandfather was murdered in his home at the age of 32 and your father would have been six years old at the time, and you see the informant's name?
GATES: Claudia Wallace?
GATES: That's James' ex-wife.
They had gotten a divorce five years before this, but she was clearly still part of his life.
The family story is that James allegedly was stabbed with an ice pick by a jealous girlfriend.
I mean, I lost my dad when I was 12, but I couldn't imagine him being taken from me in that way.
PACKNETT: I'm going to be thinking about that for a long time.
I'm going to be thinking about all of this for a long time.
GATES: There's a silver lining to this story.
In November of 1950, seven months before Brittany's father was born, James Coble and his wife Claudia had a daughter named Isis.
She's Brittany's aunt, and though she passed away in 2012, she left behind a daughter of her own, Morgan Coble-Garrett, and Morgan is very much alive today.
She is your half first cousin.
PACKNETT: Oh my gosh.
GATES: Did it ever occur to you that you had other family on your father's side of... PACKNETT: No.
GATES: But you do.
I can't believe this.
GATES: According to your cousin, your grandfather was a very charismatic and intelligent man.
GATES: Which is in such contrast to this image your father had, right?
GATES: So, what's it like finally to learn this after all these years?
PACKNETT: It feels like a picture that's finally being colored in.
PACKNETT: Um, he just went from, like, a character in the story to a person.
PACKNETT: That even through what sounds like a lot of, um, complicated family history... GATES: Mm-hmm.
PACKNETT: Um, that gave me one of the most amazing people I ever knew, and it's just a real privilege to know, mm, some of what he passed on to my dad, even with their disconnection.
GATES: Much like Brittany, Anita Hill came to me with questions about an entire branch of her family tree.
Her mother's parents, William Elliott and Ida crooks, died in the 1930s, almost two decades before Anita was born.
Anita knew little about them beyond a few anecdotes she heard from her mother.
We picked up their story in Little River County, Arkansas, where, in 1895 William applied for a homestead grant.
These grants were not given freely, it took hard work to get them.
But ultimately William satisfied the many arduous requirements that the federal government demanded of homesteaders, allowing Anita's grandparents to own their own farm.
An extraordinary feat for African Americans at this time.
What's it like to see that?
HILL: I, I'm just, I'm so proud that he and my grandmother took a chance.
And um, they went through the process.
Not everybody did that.
GATES: Not everybody who tried was successful.
People who tried, some people failed, because there were requirements.
You couldn't just sit on a land.
You had to actually improve the land.
You had to build on it, and they did what it took, uh, which had to be very, very, very difficult.
Um, so, you know, this makes me feel so proud, and it also, in an odd way, it makes me just feel proud to know that his life has been documented.
HILL: And that they have a record that my grandfather and grandmother existed, even though her name's not on here, that they... GATES: Of course.
HILL: Existed, and, and that they really sort of grabbed this part of citizenship, as a right that they had, and they owned it.
They took it.
GATES: Anita's grandparent's accomplishment is all the more impressive given where it occurred.
Just three years before they were awarded their homestead, Little River County was consumed by a campaign of racial terror in which armed parties of white men scoured the countryside, murdering African Americans, supposedly as retribution for the killing of a white planter.
Violence of this type was not uncommon in the Jim Crow south.
But, even so, the details were shocking.
HILL: "three more dead negroes have been found in Red River Bottoms between New Boston, Texas, and Rocky Comfort, Arkansas, two of them, having been hanged or shot to death.
The third body was stripped entirely nude when found.
A negro who arrived here today, says that every negro in the neighborhood of Rocky Comfort and Richmond has left his home and is afraid to return."
GATES: This article reported on what is now known as the Little River County race war.
Can you imagine living through this?
HILL: Well, and New Boston is where my grandmother was from, uh, and she had had a brother who died.
HILL: Yeah, Danny, who died, uh, because of a land dispute with a white person, he was murdered.
And so, to have that really in your backyard, and to be so close to it personally in your life.
HILL: I just wonder if they ever lost that fear.
GATES: Unfortunately, Anita's grandparents would soon be faced with a terrible new problem.
As they struggled to run their farm, they fell into debt, and became heavily mortgaged to a local constable, a white man named Ernest Hale.
By 1915, the value of the Elliott farm was well below the cost of their debts, so they sold their property to Hale and moved to Oklahoma.
It was a decision that could not have been made lightly, but it paid off.
The family took root in their new home.
Anita herself would be born in Oklahoma more than three decades later.
Leading her to reflect on her grandparents' immense tenacity.
HILL: I think you know, for some people, it could've just been, this is so painful, and it could have stopped them dead in their tracks, but they moved on.
HILL: It was just, they wanted something better, and they knew they were never gonna get a fair shake, um, where they were and, you know, they picked up and moved hundreds of miles away, um, to start all over again.
They weren't, you know, children, even, at that point.
HILL: You know, they were a middle-aged couple with, with small children, but they moved.
HILL: And maybe that's the only way that they were able to survive.
GATES: In the end, William and Ida secured their family's safety and security with this move, but in the process, they left their family's history behind.
Indeed, Anita knew almost nothing about her maternal roots beyond her grandparents.
Happily, we were able to reconstruct those roots, through the use of DNA.
We noticed that Anita shares DNA with many people in publicly available databases, all of whom trace back to one couple, and we found that couple in the 1870 census, living in Bowie County, Texas.
Could you please read their names?
HILL: Grandison Lewis and Penny.
GATES: Have you ever heard those names before?
Or the surname Lewis?
GATES: Well, Anita, based on the genetic evidence, we believe that Grandison and Penny Lewis are likely one set of Ida's grandparents, which makes them your great-great-grandparents.
HILL: Oh, wow.
GATES: What's it like to see that?
HILL: I can't explain it, but it it really just goes to something deep inside me that feels like I'm connected.
I mean, a real feeling of connection, and before it's all been abstract, and I have a name and a location... GATES: Yeah.
HILL: And, and where they were.
I didn't know where, where they were.
HILL: It's wonderful.
It, it really is wonderful.
GATES: We'd already identified Brittany Packnett Cunningham's grandfather, James Coble, introducing her to an entire branch of her family tree that she'd never even heard of before.
And we were just getting started!
James's grandmother, Brittany's great-great-grandmother, was a woman named Hartense Hayes.
And tracing her roots led us to the 1870 census for Lincoln County, Tennessee, here we found Hartense's father, Lafayette Hayes, and his seven siblings, living with their parents, Newman and Mary.
You are back to your great- great-great-great-grandparents on your father's line.
GATES: You just met three more generations.
PACKNETT: From a family I didn't even know existed.
GATES: From your, no, and from whom you have inherited DNA.
These are your, this is your biological kin.
This is incredible.
It just means something different to go from saying our ancestors, my ancestors, my elders, our elders... GATES: Yeah.
PACKNETT: To saying Lafayette and Hartense and James.
GATES: And your father descends from them.
PACKNETT: He's looking down from heaven right now going, oh, so that's who my people are.
GATES: This census indicates that Brittany's third great-grandfather Lafayette was born in Tennessee in 1861, meaning that he and his parents and elder siblings were almost certainly born into slavery.
We now set out to see how they experienced this terrible time.
We suspect they were all forced to work in the fields, likely on a small farm, but we aren't certain.
What we do know is that in early 1864, with the Civil War raging, they were freed as the Union army occupied Tennessee.
And, at that point, two of Brittany's relatives did something remarkable.
Muster rolls show that Lafayette's older brothers, Ebenezer and James P. Hayes, joined the Union army.
PACKNETT: I had no idea.
GATES: Your third great-grandfather Lafayette was too young to serve, but his brothers served in the United States Colored Troops.
What's it like to see that?
PACKNETT: I mean, I'm, I'm both proud and angry.
GATES: Mm-hmm, why are you angry?
PACKNETT: I'm angry that they had to step up to fight for freedom that belongs to them.
PACKNETT: And I'm incredibly proud that, to know that I come from people who run toward the fight.
GATES: James and Ebenezer volunteered on February 13th, 1864 in Pulaski, Tennessee.
Both men were assigned to the 111th regiment of the United States Colored Troops, which was almost immediately thrown into battle, moving south from Tennessee into the heart of the Confederacy.
It must have been thrilling to bear arms against slavery, but this story was about to take a tragic turn.
The 111th would be ravaged by the war.
Ebenezer died in an army hospital just months after enlisting, in May of 1864, at Athens, Alabama.
PACKNETT: He signed up for freedom he never got.
PACKNETT: I mean, that is...
Courage that my generation has thankfully never been asked to display at that level because other generations did, and yet and still the profound unfairness of it all is striking.
GATES: And think about this, remember Ebenezer and his brother were in the same regiment.
GATES: The 111th, so James was almost certainly in Athens when his brother died.
GATES: Can you imagine what that must have been like for him?
PACKNETT: I can't, honestly.
I mean, it's, I don't know how you prepare yourself for something like that.
PACKNETT: Or how you make sense of it ever.
I mean, enslavement is unnatural, right?
PACKNETT: So then you lose your brother fighting alongside him for freedom.
There's no possible way this ever just made sense.
GATES: James had little time to process his loss.
In September of 1864, Athens, Alabama, was attacked by Confederate forces led by Nathan Bedford Forrest, a ruthless cavalry general, and a notorious racist.
Just months earlier, forrest had overseen the massacre of Black troops following the surrender of Union forces at Fort Pillow, Tennessee.
After the war, he'd help found the Ku Klux Klan.
And now, Brittany's relative was in his crosshairs.
A newspaper from the era tells us what happened next.
PACKNETT: "Forrest, the hero of Fort Pillow, arrived at Athens, Alabama with a force estimated at 4,000 and captured the post which was one of the strongest in the district.
The post had portions of the 111th United States Colored Troops.
We have no details of the surrender and do not know what resistance, if any, was made."
I just wonder, was he scared?
Was he angry?
Was he determined?
Was he fed up?
I just, I can't imagine, I can't imagine.
GATES: Unlike at Fort Pillow, forrest spared the Black soldiers he captured in Athens, so James was sent to a Confederate prison camp in Meridian, Mississippi.
The end of the war was looming, and he and his family must have hoped he would survive to see it, but those hopes were dashed.
PACKNETT: "James P Hayes.
February 16, 1865.
Died while a prisoner of war.
Cause, bad treatment of the enemy."
He did all that just for it to kill him.
GATES: The Confederacy treated prisoners of war abysmally, and particularly Black prisoners of war.
GATES: They endured cramped living quarters, rampant disease.
Some were also put to work, re-enslavement.
And we know that prisoners from the 111th were used for hard labor to build railway lines and fortifications.
GATES: James and Ebenezer, your blood relatives, made the ultimate sacrifice for your freedom and mine.
PACKNETT: A choice they never should have had to make.
PACKNETT: But um, a brave one indeed.
GATES: What's it been like to hear their stories?
PACKNETT: Oh, man.
I find myself...
Struck by the cruelty of our history and um, wondering what could have been.
I mean, their lives were very literally stolen and so is every other enslaved persons'.
PACKNETT: And I, often ask myself to imagine what life is beyond oppression.
PACKNETT: So that we know what we're building toward.
PACKNETT: And I just wonder what the answer to that question would have looked like for them.
PACKNETT: If they had made it to the other side.
PACKNETT: What was the kind of life they wanted?
GATES: That they dreamed of.
GATES: James and Ebenezer are among the roughly 40,000 African Americans who died serving the union.
But their loss was not entirely in vain.
The brothers were awarded pensions for their service, pensions that helped support their mother and father, Brittany's fourth great-grandparents, as well as their siblings, into the 1880s, giving the family a measure of financial stability that many newly-freed African Americans were unable to obtain.
PACKNETT: This is, wow.
GATES: What would your dad make of all this?
PACKNETT: When he pastored Central Baptist he used to do children's story time.
PACKNETT: Um, because, you know, my dad was a liberation theologian story time would be a little Bible mixed in with some social justice and some Black power.
GATES: And some Black history.
Um, I have a feeling he would have mixed some of these stories in.
GATES: We'd already traced Anita Hill's maternal roots back to her great-great-grandfather, Grandison Lewis, who was born into slavery and was living in Bowie County, Texas when the Civil War ended.
Now we wanted to see if we could find any evidence of his life during slavery.
This posed an extremely difficult challenge to our genealogists.
Enslaved people were almost never listed by name in the federal census because denying them their names, a key part of a person's humanity, was a way of reinforcing the fiction that they were property.
A fundamental part of the slave system.
But there were a few exceptions.
In 1850, three counties in the entire United States chose to record the names of enslaved people.
Utah County, Utah.
Scott County, Tennessee.
And Bowie County, Texas.
How is that, how, you know, how does, I mean, this, this is, like, the, winning the lottery here.
GATES: You have won the genealogical jackpot, and it's because some county clerk, or census-taker decided that it was important to write down the names of the enslaved people on a slave schedule, but only in three counties in the whole United States in 1850 did that happen, and it happened where your great-great-grandfather was living, and that's why you're able to see his name.
HILL: Oh I love it.
I love it.
GATES: That is a miracle.
GATES: According to this census, in 1850, Grandison was one of 22 people enslaved by Charles Lewis, a white farmer who ran a large plantation in Bowie County.
So Anita now knew the name of the man who enslaved her ancestor, prompting some decidedly mixed emotions.
HILL: In, in some way, it humanizes him, but in some ways, it dehumanizes him to me, because, you know, how could you be, a, a human being who could just, like, sit and articulate this, and own this, and say that you were owning people, um, say it out loud in, in a public document, and not feel guilty about this?
I think I feel quite a bit of anger for Charles.
But then, you know, it, it, the anger can't be limited to him.
HILL: It's a system that allowed it.
GATES: The system that held Anita's ancestors in bondage would soon come to an end.
In May of 1865, the Union army entered Texas.
By that time, Anita's great-great-grandparents, Grandison and Penny Lewis, had had several children together.
It is hard to imagine the joy they must have felt to see freedom finally come.
Unfortunately, they were about to face a fresh ordeal, as we saw in a complaint detailing the abuses that newly-freed African Americans in Bowie County suffered at the hands of a white planter named Warren Hooks.
HILL: "In July 1865 Warren Hooks Esquire took my brother Alex Hooks and took his pants down and laid him on the ground and did severely beat him in my presence with a wide strap made of leather.
And in the same year and month he did take one Grandison Lewis, colored, who was in his employ, and beat him with a large ten foot pole and drew blood from his head.
Because he said Grandison had not hauled wheat enough that morning.
In the fall of 1867, said Warren Hooks, did hit a colored woman named Penny Lewis with a grub and his fist and whipped her son Spencer, 13 years of age."
GATES: A grub is a hoe.
That was terrible.
And this is three years after the, uh, end of slavery, but they're still being treated as if they're slaves.
Like Hooks owned them.
GATES: How do you think your ancestors responded to this?
They were basically being terrorized.
HILL: They probably felt vulnerable, but maybe, to survive, they just became numb to it.
HILL: I, I, I think that would've been a, a natural reaction to something that you live with every day, something so brutal that you live with every day, but you know you can't do anything about, and no one else is going to do anything.
GATES: Anita's ancestors may well have been frightened, but they didn't give in to those fears.
Quite the contrary: in the summer of 1867, despite the threats all around him, her great-great-grandfather Grandison left the relative safety of his home.
And registered to vote.
HILL: "Bowie County.
Date of registry: July 17.
Names of voters: Grandison Lewis."
So, even in, in, in his despair, he, he still wanted to claim his right.
And that's, like, yeah, that really is, I mean, that's just a personal level of personal courage, to still believe, GATES: Mm-mm.
HILL: To still believe that there was something that you could do, that something that you could do would matter.
GATES: How does it feel to see that?
HILL: You know, it the other part of it is so awful, and so depressing, and so, it, it makes me so angry.
But you see this, and you, you, you realize that they still had, had an investment, that, in, in, in their own future, in their own well-being, that they, they didn't just give up.
HILL: Um, and they still had a belief in the system.
You know, I don't, I don't know how they kept that.
I don't know how, um, given that you were under physical threat, how do you look beyond that, and believe in a system that really wasn't intended to protect you?
But it's obvious that he believed that if you could vote, and you voted, you could change the system.
How can you still believe?
GATES: As it turns out, Anita's ancestor was not only idealistic, he was supremely pragmatic, as evidenced by a series of tax records from Bowie County, which, taken together, tell an astonishing story.
HILL: "1889 assessment of property.
Owner: Grandison Lewis.
Original grantee: Charles Lewis.
Value: 120 dollars."
GATES: In 1874, nine years after slavery ended, your great-great-grandfather became the owner of 175 acres of land.
15 years later, he purchased an additional 60 acres of land that was originally granted to Charles Lewis, the man who had once owned him.
GATES: We believe your ancestor actually purchased part of the land on which he had been previously enslaved.
That's some justice.
GATES: What's it like to see that?
HILL: I just, I, I'm just in awe of, of the ability and, and the willingness to, just to stick in there and keep pushing for your rights, uh, and getting what's due to you, and maybe it wasn't all that was due, but you know, you start to chip away with what has been taken from you, and you demand to take some of it back.
GATES: The paper trail had run out for each of my guests.
PACKNETT: Oh my gosh.
GATES: It was time to unfurl their family trees.
PACKNETT: This is incredible.
GATES: Now filled with names they'd never heard before.
PACKNETT: This is my family.
Oh my gosh.
HILL: I know to some people, you know, you go back 1,000 years, to me this is like going back 1,000 years.
GATES: It is for an African American.
HILL: Yeah, this is.
Oh, it's wonderful.
GATES: Seeing their ancestors laid out before them, stretching back centuries, allowed each to reflect on the women and men who had done so much to lay the groundwork for their success.
What do you think you've inherited from these people?
HILL: Well, I like to hope and believe that I've inherited tenacity, and, and the, really the ability to, to claim citizenship.
And, and what's it's taught me is that that's a legacy that I have to continue, whether it's using your voice, or whether it's can be pushing your, your rights.
Um, it's something that I have now a birthright to, and that I need to continue.
PACKNETT: Seeing this makes me feel completely unbreakable.
GATES: What do you mean?
PACKNETT: They survived.
PACKNETT: They stayed together.
They birthed generations that were not supposed to see the sun.
And it probably doesn't match the feeling that I thought I was going to have... GATES: Mm-hmm.
PACKNETT: But I feel completely unbreakable.
GATES: That's the end of our journey with Brittany Packnett Cunningham and Anita Hill.
Join me next time when we unlock the secrets of the past for new guests on another episode of "Finding Your Roots".