GATES: I'm Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
Welcome to Finding Your Roots.
In this episode, we'll meet activist Angela Davis and statesman Jeh Johnson, two African Americans who are about to discover that their families are far more diverse than they ever dreamed.
DAVIS: My father must have known this, right, because... GATES: I can't imagine that he didn't.
DAVIS: Why did he not say something to us about this?
JOHNSON: This was not even part of family folklore.
JOHNSON: And there's a lot of family folklore.
GATES: To uncover their roots, we've used every tool available.
Genealogists combed through paper trails stretching back hundreds of years.
DAVIS: This is something I never expected to discover.
GATES: While DNA experts utilized the latest advances in genetic analysis to reveal secrets that have lain hidden for generations.
JOHNSON: That's remarkable.
GATES: And we've compiled it all into a book of life... JOHNSON: Oh, my.
GATES: A record of all of our discoveries.
I can't believe this.
My ancestors did not come here on the Mayflower.
GATES: Your ancestors came on the Mayflower.
JOHNSON: It's the American story.
In all of its tragedy... And it's part of who I am.
It's part of who I am as an American and an American of African descent.
GATES: My guests came to me with a dilemma common to many Black people: their family's stories had been obliterated.
In this episode, we'll reconstruct those stories, using a pioneering combination of genealogy and genetics.
Along the way, Angela and Jeh will meet ancestors whose identities they never imagined, and explore chapters in our nation's history that they never knew existed.
(theme music playing).
♪ ♪ (book closes) ♪ ♪ GATES: Angela Davis is a living legend.
Since the early 1970s, the philosopher and activist has been a tireless advocate for social justice, crisscrossing the globe to write and speak, on behalf of the oppressed.
DAVIS: If we do not realize that the time is now, then the time will never come.
GATES: But Angela's own journey began far from the spotlight.
She was born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1944, in the depths of the Jim Crow era.
She came of age with the civil rights movement, and she witnessed first-hand the violent pushback it unleashed.
When she was a child, White racists bombed homes in her neighborhood so frequently that it became known as "dynamite hill"... Fortunately, Angela's mother, a schoolteacher, taught her to imagine a better place.
DAVIS: I knew that there were people in the world who did not appreciate the fact that we existed, to put it that way, but my mother always told us, that, that wasn't the way things were supposed to be.
DAVIS: Because she used to say that, when we wanted to go to the amusement park, and Black children were not allowed to go to the big amusement park in Birmingham, but we would drive by it, and we would see the white kids on the Ferris wheel and you know, on all of the rides and my mother would always say that this is not the way things are supposed to be and that they will change.
GATES: A better day's gonna come.
So, I think my, my consciousness about being Black was always a consciousness of the need to imagine a better future.
GATES: Fueled by her mother's vision, Angela initially followed in her footsteps.
A brilliant student, she earned a PhD in philosophy and joined the faculty at UCLA.
She was a political radical, immersed in the burgeoning Black power movement... DAVIS: We will not stop until we have won.
GATES: But she was first and foremost an academic.
All that changed in the fall of 1969, when Angela lost her job at UCLA due to her ties to the communist party.
Suddenly, she was thrust in front of the media, a role she reluctantly embraced.
DAVIS: I had never imagined myself as being the center of controversy or publicly exposed in that way, and there's a story I often tell, when I was holding a press conference for the first time after this news was released, and people have looked at that press conference, and they've said, oh, Angela, you were so militant then, you were really, really, really, and I said, no, no, no, no, no my knees were shaking, I was scared to death, it wasn't about that.
So, I had to learn how to be that uh... public persona.
GATES: Angela's "learning process" was accelerated by a horrifying ordeal.
On October 13th, 1970, she was arrested for allegedly providing guns that were used to kill four people in a California courthouse.
She would spend 16 months in jail, and become the focus of a world-wide campaign demanding her freedom, before she was finally acquitted on all charges.
DAVIS: This is the happiest day of my life.
GATES: It was a travesty of justice.
But it gave Angela a global platform, one she's never relinquished.
In the four decades since, she's been a vital voice in the struggle for equality, a true public intellectual.
looking back on it all, however, Angela remains reluctant to take any credit.
For her, larger goals have always been the priority.
DAVIS: I never considered that the achievements that are attributed to me, are mine alone.
DAVIS: And I've always recognized that there are vast numbers of people who made it possible for them to happen, and I guess, one of the things I'm perhaps most proud of, I had little to do with... GATES: Mm-hmm.
DAVIS: And that is the fact that this amazing movement that developed when I was in jail, that brought together people from literally, all over the world... GATES: Mm-hmm.
DAVIS: From you know, Palestine to Brazil.
DAVIS: And the fact that we won the case was an indication that even when we're up against the most powerful forces in the world, that we can, we can struggle, we can fight back, we can resist, and we can win.
GATES: My second guest is lawyer and statesman Jeh Johnson.
Jeh served in both the Clinton and Obama administrations, culminating in a three-year stint as Secretary of Homeland Security, the first African American to hold that position.
He's also a partner at one of America's most prestigious law firms, a member of the council on foreign relations, and a trustee at Columbia University.
It's an impressive resume.
All the more so because, according to Jeh, he barely graduated from high school.
Growing up in a Wappinger's Falls, a village about 80 miles north of New York City, he was a miserable student, and the source of great frustration to his parents.
JOHNSON: I did not have, in my mind, any good reason to devote the time to studying.
So, numerically, I would typically get grades in the 50s, 60s.
JOHNSON: If I got a grade in the 70s, that was, like, a gift.
And I just felt no need to study.
And I remember a moment when my mother insisted, "You're gonna study.
You're gonna sit down, you're gonna, in front of this book, and you're gonna read this book.
And you're gonna do your homework.
And you're gonna sit here for two hours."
And I said to her, "Mom, you can make me sit here.
You can make me open the book.
You can make me look at the book.
But you can't make me read the book."
GATES: Jeh's salvation was Morehouse, the esteemed Black men's college in Atlanta, Georgia, alma mater of civil rights luminaries Martin Luther King, Jr, Maynard Jackson, and Julian Bond.
Jeh told me that his father encouraged him to apply, and that his guidance counselor didn't think he'd be accepted, but once Jeh set foot on campus, he was transformed.
JOHNSON: There were students from Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, who were very dedicated, very, uh, ambitious, uh, very studious.
And then there were a lot of kids from the North, like me.
JOHNSON: Whose parents thought it would be good for them, in their formative period, to have that experience.
GATES: You need to be immersed.
JOHNSON: I, to be immersed in Black life, Black culture, Black education, Black history.
GATES: They were tryin' to save your soul, Jeh.
JOHNSON: And to be in the majority for four years.
GATES: Yeah, right.
JOHNSON: I had grown up in a predominantly white situation.
JOHNSON: I did not have many role models.
Except for my own family.
I did not have many role models around me.
JOHNSON: And it wasn't 'til I got to Morehouse, that I was exposed.
JOHNSON: And overdosed in role models, at Morehouse.
GATES: Immersed, like going to Africa.
JOHNSON: It was like going to Africa.
GATES: They were... JOHNSON: And yes, that's a good, that's a good parallel.
JOHNSON: It's like going to Africa.
It's like going home.
GATES: Jeh left Morehouse a straight A-student with the confidence to achieve even more, that confidence propelled him to Columbia law school, where he emerged as a star, setting him on the path he's still following today, and giving him the perspective to make a profound impact.
Looking back at everything that you've accomplished, what are you proudest of?
JOHNSON: What am I proudest of?
One, the repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell" law.
JOHNSON: I was assigned to co-chair a working group that would study whether or not the military could handle gay and lesbian service members serving openly.
JOHNSON: And spent 10 months doing that, issued a comprehensive report.
No one in Congress could question how thorough it was.
JOHNSON: And after we issued the report, two or three weeks later, Congress repealed that law... GATES: Hmm.
JOHNSON: To the point where even today, 12 years later, people in the U.S. military will come up to me and say, "Thank you for what you did for me.
Let me introduce you to my spouse."
JOHNSON: Which had they done that 12 years before, would've been automatic grounds for their removal from the U.S. military.
JOHNSON: Just that simple act of introducing me to a same sex spouse.
JOHNSON: Um, but, you know what I'm most proud, proud of, I tell high school kids, "You can be a C and D student, and it's never too late."
JOHNSON: "You're never as inconsequential as you think you might be."
GATES: After meeting my guests, it was clear that Angela and Jeh had been shaped by their childhoods in very different ways, but turning to their roots, we saw their ancestors' stories converge.
Both had profound mysteries hidden in the closest branches of their family trees.
For Angela, the mystery centered around her mother, Sallye Bell.
Sallye grew up in a foster home, and Angela came to me hoping to learn the identity of her biological parents.
This request prompted a question of my own.
Why is it important to you to solve this mystery?
Some people don't want to know, some people do.
I would want to know, so the answer seems obvious to me, but not to our audience.
So, that's why I'm asking.
DAVIS: I don't necessarily know whether my sense of myself will change as a result of knowing something more about her origins, but my mother was such a remarkable woman, and I just would like to know you know... GATES: Where that came from.
DAVIS: And the ingredients of it.
GATES: There are no records of Sallye's birth, so our only chance at solving this mystery was DNA, and, at first, even that proved frustrating.
Angela's maternal haplogroup, the "genetic signature" passed from mother to child, traces back to Africa, indicating that Sallye's mother was an African American woman, but this alone couldn't establish her actual identity, and DNA could tell us nothing further.
We had better luck with Sallye's father.
Our genetic genealogist, CeCe Moore, compared Angela's DNA profile to millions of others in publicly available databases, and discovered that Angela has a pair of half first cousins she didn't know she had.
And by mapping the family trees of these cousins, CeCe realized they who could only be related to Angela through the man who had to be Sallye's biological father: a white Alabama lawyer named John Austin Darden.
He has my mother's lips.
GATES: That is your biological grandfather.
You're looking at your mother's father.
That's so funny.
I can see her in him.
GATES: Would you please turn the page?
You see, didn't I say that?
GATES: There you go.
We wanted to put them in profile.
GATES: What's it like to see your mother, and her father, like that, side by side?
DAVIS: Well, I can't get used to the fact that this is her father, but I mean, I know it... GATES: Yes, yes.
DAVIS: But uh, but I, yes.
It's, it's really amazing.
GATES: Once we looked at those profiles, we said, we didn't need the DNA test.
DAVIS: That's true.
GATES: The barbershop would have convicted the brother right there.
GATES: She looked like her daddy.
Do you think your mother would have liked to meet her cousins, or her relatives?
DAVIS: My mother was so open, and so gracious, and so always willing to look for the good in people.
Since we cannot identify Sallye's mother, we can't determine how she met John Austin Darden, or do anything more than guess as to the nature of their relationship.
But our researchers were able to uncover a great deal about John himself.
DAVIS: "A veteran lawyer and Alabama legislator, John Austin Darden, 63, died unexpectedly here, Sunday.
The former publisher of The Goodwater Enterprise, who served both as a representative and senator at various times, had practiced law here 40 years.
Other than his widow, he is survived by four sons and two daughters."
I didn't think that we would ever, um, have a name.
DAVIS: I, I always imagined, imagined him as an anonymous figure.
GATES: He was a prominent member of his community, quite accomplished, very well educated, very wealthy.
was he a member of the Ku Klux Klan?
Or the White Citizens Counsel, that's something I would also want to know.
DAVIS: Because in those days, in order to achieve that power... GATES: Right.
DAVIS: One had to thoroughly embrace white supremacy.
GATES: It would not be a surprise if those things were true.
GATES: But we just don't know.
We don't know anything about it.
Can I ask you what you're feeling right now?
DAVIS: I guess I'm both glad, but I'm also really angry.
GATES: Of course.
DAVIS: I'm really, really angry.
DAVIS: And I see that this notice in The Birmingham News says that he's survived by four sons and two daughters.
DAVIS: But you know, what about... my mother may not have been the only one.
DAVIS: She may have siblings who are half Black.
DAVIS: So, this actually, it opens up so many other questions.
DAVIS: But of course, that's true about knowledge, isn't it?
GATES: It is.
DAVIS: You know, the more you learn, the more you realize that there is to learn.
GATES: As it turns out, Angela's knowledge of her newfound Darden family was about to expand dramatically.
We were able to follow the paper trail from John back to Angela's fourth-great grandfather, a man named Stephen Darden, Stephen was born in colonial Virginia sometime around the year 1750. and in the National Archives, we discovered that he did something remarkable.
DAVIS: "Muster Roll of Captain Abraham Kirkpatrick's Company, 4th Virginia Regiment of Foot in the service of the United States for the month of November 1779.
Drum and Fifes: Stephen Darden."
He was a musician.
GATES: You, Angela Davis are descended from a Patriot.
Your fourth great-grandfather served in the Revolutionary War.
And as you can see on the muster roll in front of you, he played the drums.
GATES: So, when you were studying the American Revolution, did it ever occur that you could have an ancestor who... DAVIS: Absolutely not.
GATES: So, what do you do with that information now that you know that you do, that you are descendant from someone who did in fact serve in the American Revolution?
DAVIS: Um, well, the American Revolution should have gone further than it actually did.
GATES: Without a doubt.
DAVIS: But I'm glad to be able to have this information.
DAVIS: Because, and you know, one of the reasons, and I'm thinking off the top of my head right now... GATES: Of course.
DAVIS: You only just threw all of this information at me.
GATES: We're improvising together.
DAVIS: But you know, I'm remembering that so many people have called those of us who fight, who try to fight against racism, and who have visions of a more radical democracy, as un-American.
DAVIS: And you know, I've you know, always insisted that the best way to pay tribute to this country is to try to change it and allow it to develop into the, the kind of um, uh, place where you know, anyone can be free, and equal, and happy.
GATES: I'm with you.
DAVIS: So, there's a sense in which I identify with the... the identity of the Patriot, but it has to be a radical... GATES: Of course.
GATES: The most American thing you can do is to fight against injustice.
GATES: Unfortunately, Angela's ability to "identify" with her ancestor would soon diminish considerably.
Records show that after the Revolutionary War, Stephen Darden moved from Virginia to Georgia, where, at the time of his death, he owned a farm, and at least six enslaved people.
A fact that took Angela by surprise.
DAVIS: I always imagined my ancestors as the people who were enslaved.
DAVIS: Well, my mind and my heart is swirling with all of these contradictory emotions you know, I'm glad, on the one hand, that we've begun to solve this mystery... GATES: Mm-hmm.
DAVIS: You know, we have something that we didn't have before.
DAVIS: But at the same time, I think it makes me even more committed to struggling for a better world.
GATES: Of course.
DAVIS: Because this world that could give rise to such a beautiful person as my mother, was not the world I want to see in the future.
GATES: Of course not.
What would your mom have made of this?
DAVIS: She would have probably said, well, it's good to know my genetic background, it's good to know my ancestry, but those are not necessarily my people.
GATES: Of course.
DAVIS: My people you know, are the ones who fought for me, who supported me.
GATES: Who nurtured and loved me and nourished me, right?
GATES: Unlike Angela, Jeh Johnson came to me knowing a tremendous amount about his family tree, in part because it contains some very celebrated individuals.
Jeh's paternal grandfather, Charles S. Johnson, was a renowned sociologist and the first Black president of Fisk University, and Jeh's maternal roots were notable as well.
JOHNSON: My mother's family were native Washingtonians.
They were proud to live in the nation's capital.
My mother used to tell the story of watching Franklin Roosevelt on his, uh, in his convertible, with the dog, driving up Maryland Avenue, past her home.
JOHNSON: With a Secret Service chase car.
And, years... GATES: Imagine that.
JOHNSON: Imagine that.
And years later, I said to her, "Would you ever have imagined your own son would one day have a Secret Service chase car?"
The C and D student in high school.
Uh, interestingly, her mother's family were Goodwins.
JOHNSON: From Selma, Alabama.
If you went to the Brown AME Chapel, in Selma, Alabama, the national historic landmark where the marches originated from... GATES: Mm-hmm.
JOHNSON: You would see the name R.M.
Goodwin, founding secretary, on the cornerstone.
JOHNSON: That is my great-great-grandfather.
GATES: Man, you come from people on both sides.
JOHNSON: Well, we've done a lot of research.
JOHNSON: A, as you say, everys, every person's legacy is interesting.
GATES: It is.
JOHNSON: If you know your legacy, you know your history, you will find many interesting things.
GATES: Jeh's words would prove prophetic.
As we dug into his roots, we uncovered one of the most "interesting" stories we've ever told, a story that somehow had been lost in the passage of time.
It begins in the 1870 census for Robertson Township, Virginia, where we found Jeh's great-great-grandfather Joseph Clore listed as a nine year old boy, living in a household headed by his mother, a woman named Margaret Clore.
JOHNSON: Oh my!
GATES: What's it like to see this?
This is your family over 150 years ago just five years after the end of the Civil War.
JOHNSON: News to me.
Um, this is fascinating, and I did not know, uh, that I had ancestors in Robertson Township, Virginia.
GATES: Well, as you can see, Joseph and his mother and several of his siblings were all born before 1865, meaning that they were likely born into slavery.
GATES: Have you thought much about your ancestors who were enslaved?
Um, I could visit the grave site of a number of ancestors who were enslaved... GATES: Mm-hmm.
JOHNSON: And, um, cannot fathom what life was like then, uh, but I am mindful of it.
GATES: It can be very difficult to trace African American roots under slavery, because enslaved people weren't typically listed by name in federal records.
But in Jeh's case, we got lucky.
In 1874, nine years after emancipation, his third great-grandmother Margaret gave a deposition in which she described her family in great detail, introducing to Jeh to a host of ancestors whose names and identities were a complete surprise.
JOHNSON: "I am the widow of Lewis B. Clore.
He was a slave of Aaron Clore, who was his father.
He had ten children by the same woman who was a slave of his also.
Her name is Eliza Clore.
She lives near me now."
So I guess I'm related to some White folks named Clore?
GATES: Your fourth-great grandfather was a White man, and his name was Aaron Clore.
And he owned your fourth great-grandmother, a woman named Eliza.
What do you make of that?
JOHNSON: I don't know what to make of that.
That, that is, um, striking.
Striking to me.
JOHNSON: I don't think I've ever heard of such an arrangement.
GATES: But raises a lot of questions about the... JOHNSON: Ten children by the same woman who was a slave?
GATES: Can you love someone who owns you?
JOHNSON: Um, I suppose in theory.
JOHNSON: Don't know, we'll never know the relationship between these two.
GATES: We wanted to learn more about this highly unusual couple, and in the 1860 census for Virginia, we found a slave schedule for Aaron Clore.
As was customary, the schedule lists enslaved people not by their names, but only by their age, gender, and color.
It wasn't definitive, but it did allow Jeh the chance to glimpse his fourth great-grandmother as the human property of his fourth great-grandfather.
JOHNSON: "Number one."
They have numbers?
"Age 50, female, Black.
Number two, age 45, female, Black.
Number four, age 28, male, Black."
they're not even worthy of a name in the census.
GATES: No names... JOHNSON: Right.
GATES: So you know what that means, either the 45-year-old or the 50-year-old woman is your fourth great-grandmother, Eliza.
GATES: And the 28-year-old man is their son, your third great-grandfather, Lewis.
JOHNSON: They're, they're listed like commodities.
GATES: He was listing the woman who bore his children and his own son.
JOHNSON: He's listing his family, but they're not worth a name.
GATES: What's it like for you to know A, the name of the White man who owned your family, and B, to know the name of the White man who is your fourth great-grandfather?
JOHNSON: The best way to look at this in my judgment is it's the American story.
In all of its tragedy, and hypocrisy.
JOHNSON: And, I can't undo it.
I won't disavow it.
It's part of who I am.
JOHNSON: It's part of whom I, who I am as an American and an American of African descent.
JOHNSON: Would I want my grandchildren to see this page?
Because I'd want them to understand our history.
And this nation's history.
JOHNSON: In its full color.
So it is what it is.
We have to accept the reality of it.
And just like, I can't lop off my left arm.
I can't lop off Aaron Clore.
JOHNSON: Slave owner who happens to also be my direct ancestor.
GATES: We'd already solved a DNA mystery regarding Angela Davis' mother.
Now we confronted a second mystery of a similar nature.
Angela's father, Frank Davis, grew up in the tiny town of Linden, Alabama.
In 1889, his mother, Mollie Spencer, married a man named "Edward Davis."
Frank carries the Davis surname, but Edward Davis was not his father.
In fact, it seems that Mollie and Edward separated long before Frank, and many of his siblings, were born.
Frank himself never spoke about the subject.
But his siblings, especially one of Angela's aunts, had told wild stories about it.
DAVIS: So, she told us that her father, my father's father, was a White man... GATES: Mm-hmm.
DAVIS: And that my grandmother had gone to New York and had got married to him, and my other aunt said that's absolutely ridiculous.
So, you know, because my grandmother was a rural person.
There's no way she would be able to go to New York.
But anyway, these are the kinds of stories that circulated within the family.
GATES: Surprisingly, the wild family stories may have contained a grain of truth... Alabama census records reveal that for at least a decade Mollie lived next door to a White man named "Murphy Jones".
And when we examined the genetic profiles of Murphy's known living relatives, we found multiple matches to Angela.
Meaning that Murphy Jones was Frank's biological father, DAVIS: My father must have known this, right, because... GATES: I can't imagine that he didn't.
DAVIS: And why did he not say something to us about this?
GATES: What do you think the answer to that question is?
DAVIS: Well, I think we all know, you know, it's Jim Crow South, miscegenation was absolutely prohibited by law, but if they were involved in a "relationship" for so long, it would appear that my father would have had something to say about it, and... GATES: He would have seen this man.
GATES: I mean, they lived next door to each other.
DAVIS: That's true.
But my father, if you asked my father about him, he would never talk about him.
GATES: Murphy and Mollie's relationship occurred at a time when interracial sex was illegal across the south.
This fact, however, doesn't seem to have deterred them.
We believe the couple may have had as many as four children together.
What's more: in 1906, Murphy sold Mollie 22 acres of land for $200, a transaction that suggests the two may have been closely bonded, even though it made Angela suspicious.
DAVIS: I'm thinking, why didn't he just give it to her.
You know, she was raising his children.
GATES: Sure, but I mean, we don't know where the $200 came from.
He could have given her the 200, I mean, the whole thing could have been a staged transaction, you know?
DAVIS: That's true.
GATES: Just to make it legal.
GATES: I'm not trying to cut him some slack, but... DAVIS: No.
GATES: But it seems reasonable to assume that they had a long-term loving relationship.
I don't know how else you would put it.
DAVIS: I hope so.
GATES: And they broke the law.
DAVIS: They definitely broke the law.
GATES: We now turned our focus to Mollie's roots.
Her father, Angela's great-grandfather, was a man named Isom Spencer.
We found Isom, along with two of his brothers, listed as collateral on a loan document filed in 1854 by a slave-owner named William Pauling.
Pauling owned a plantation in Marengo County, Alabama, and in this document, he gives a detailed accounting of the human beings who worked it, making the reality of slavery palpable to Angela in a way she'd never expected.
DAVIS: I assumed that my ancestors lived on plantations as slaves, but of course, I didn't know who they were, and I didn't know who the slave owners were, and I just feel so sad that these are my people who had to live under those conditions, So, you know, it makes me realize what a miracle it is that we're here now.
GATES: Oh my God, and this is yesterday.
In terms of an historical timeline, our blood ancestors were owned by other human beings according to the law yesterday in terms of the passage of time.
GATES: Angela's great-grandfather Isom not only marks her family's transition from slavery to freedom, he's also at the center of a fascinating story.
In 1866, a year after the end of the Civil War, Isom's former owner, William Pauling, was keeping four of Isom's orphaned nephews as unpaid apprentices on his plantation, essentially he was continuing to hold them in slavery, using his power and privilege to circumvent the law.
But Isom and his brothers weren't intimidated by Pauling.
To the contrary, they went to court and filed a complaint against him.
DAVIS: That's great.
GATES: It runs in the family.
DAVIS: Oh my God.
This I'm so happy to see.
GATES: Isn't that cool?
GATES: I mean, these are people who have been kept in bondage, and in 1866 said we are going to use the mechanism of law against this racist... DAVIS: Absolutely.
GATES: Whose got these kids... DAVIS: And they figured out how to do it.
GATES: They figured out how to do it.
DAVIS: So, they brought an actual complaint.
GATES: It's amazing.
GATES: Unfortunately, Angela's ancestor faced steep odds.
At the time, former slave owners all over the south were trying to keep Black children on their plantations as free labor.
The practice was so common that the judge who heard the family's complaint saw nothing wrong with it.
DAVIS: "I thought it was a capital arrangement for such children and the best thing that could be done for them.
I do not think that any good will result from the angry and frivolous complaints of the uncles and aunts of such children, they can do nothing for them, and they do not know what is best for them or for the children."
GATES: The judge presiding over your relative's case sided with the planter.
DAVIS: That doesn't surprise me.
GATES: He endorsed Pauling's desire to have your relatives stay on as his quote-unquote "apprentices".
Stating that Isom and his brothers did not quote-unquote "know what is best for them or for the children".
What do you imagine your great-grandfather and his brothers felt at that moment?
DAVIS: Well, you know, I'm sure that they were extremely angry.
They were the uncles of these children who were being exploited.
GATES: Blood kin.
DAVIS: Who were being turned into slaves.
So, is this the way it ends?
GATES: Happily, this is not where the story ends.
Less than a year later, the Freedman's Bureau, a federal agency set up, in part, to help African Americans, intervened on Isom's behalf, and ordered that his nephews be released from their apprenticeships.
GATES: So, your great-grandfather, a man born and raised in slavery pulled off a victory less than two years after he became free.
GATES: So, do you see a little bit of him and his determination trickling down that family tree of yours?
DAVIS: Oh, absolutely.
I'm happy to find that there's a motif of resistance there.
GATES: There is, definitely.
DAVIS: Because that is what I feel like I've been trying to do since I was a teenager.
GATES: Well, you came by it naturally my daddy would say.
That I never would have expected!
GATES: We'd already introduced Jeh Johnson to his fourth great-grandparents: Aaron and Eliza Clore, revealing that Aaron was a white slave owner, and Eliza was one of his slaves.
Now Jeh was about to discover that this relationship was even more complex than it first appeared.
Records show that the couple had ten children together, even though Aaron was married, with a White wife and two White children.
What's more, in 1874, one of Aaron and Eliza's daughters gave a deposition, describing how Aaron organized his two families.
JOHNSON: "Our father had three farms.
His White family was on one and we were on one."
So he kept them separate.
GATES: This is something we have never seen before, Jeh.
How do you imagine this family dynamic?
JOHNSON: Um, well they probably didn't spend holidays together.
Put it that way.
Um, they probably didn't all sit around the table at Thanksgiving.
And they probably never came together except perhaps if one was working for the other.
JOHNSON: And my speculation is that this arrangement was an open secret... GATES: Oh yeah.
JOHNSON: Among the Clore family.
Just from sheer physical resemblance.
It's probably something and, and, and you're right there probably were colored Black siblings that looked an awful lot, like the White ones... GATES: Yeah.
JOHNSON: Perhaps even more so than the White ones looked like each other.
GATES: Sure, and I wonder how these two women dealt with this?
JOHNSON: It's probably something that didn't get discussed, but tolerated perhaps.
GATES: We have no idea how Eliza and Aaron's wife felt about each other, but when freedom came, Aaron did something that strongly suggests what he felt about them.
In the 1870 census, we found Aaron living with Eliza, and their mixed race children.
JOHNSON: Oh my.
What's going on here?
GATES: This is a household.
JOHNSON: I see.
GATES: This is a household.
So you're suggesting to me that maybe the White wife put him out and he went to live with the colored family?
GATES: Maybe he decided he was really in love with his Black wife equivalent.
GATES: They ended up living together willingly, Jeh.
Those are your fourth great grandparents living together five years after the Civil War, a White man and a Black woman willingly cohabiting.
JOHNSON: That's an interesting speculation.
GATES: Well, they're living under the same roof.
JOHNSON: They appear to be.
GATES: And they openly admitted.
JOHNSON: And I guess you can't count somebody twice in the Census.
GATES: No you can't.
GATES: No, you can't.
GATES: At this point, Jeh was understandably struggling with what the paper trail was telling us, and even I thought it seemed unlikely that his ancestor would make such a decision, but in the same census that showed Aaron and Eliza living together, we saw another household that left little room for doubt.
JOHNSON: "Aaron F. Clore, age 48, White, occupation farmer.
Rosanna, age 81, White."
So is this, the, the White family?
GATES: Yes, Rosanna is your fourth great grandfather's White wife.
GATES: And in this census, she's living alone in that same year, 1870... JOHNSON: With a son named Aaron.
GATES: That your fourth great grandfather is living with your Black fourth great grandmother.
She is living alone with her son Aaron about 18 miles away from where her husband is living with your fourth great grandmother.
So Jeh, you know what that means?
Aaron chose to live with Eliza.
He basically left his wife for your fourth great grandmother.
I don't know what to think.
I don't know what to think.
GATES: Well first, did you have any idea when you sat down today that this story would be one that we had uncovered on your family?
JOHNSON: This was not even part of family folklore.
JOHNSON: And there's a lot of family folklore swirling around in my family.
This was not even, this was not even part of family folklore.
GATES: There is a final, and truly incredible, beat to this story.
When Aaron Clore died he was still living with Eliza, and in his will, he gave Eliza land and livestock, just as he did his White wife.
Aaron also directed that his White son build Eliza a house, and that money be held in trust for Eliza and her children.
GATES: So what do you think of this dude now?
JOHNSON: Money does talk, I guess livestock talks, property talks.
So... GATES: A house, new house.
JOHNSON: He thought enough of his colored family to leave them some, some property... GATES: Right.
JOHNSON: Something worthwhile.
And this story sounds very human to me, put it that way.
GATES: It does.
JOHNSON: That's the best way I can say it.
This story sounds very human.
GATES: Sounds like... JOHNSON: What occurs during Reconstruction in, in the South, Virginia, um, in the abstract no one would ever believe it, but here it is.
JOHNSON: We talk about how stories like this can be lost to history, lost over time.
What's interesting is if you went to my mother's family cemetery in Maryland, just outside the District of Columbia, there are generations of her ancestors.
And I remember she used to talk about Granny Clore.
JOHNSON: Who I think was her, could have been her great-grandmother.
JOHNSON: And... or Grandma Clore.
Grandma Clore probably knew this story.
GATES: I'm sure.
JOHNSON: She probably knew this story... GATES: Mm-hmm.
JOHNSON: From her parents, from her grandparents, whatever.
She probably knew this story, but it's a story lost to my generation until this moment.
GATES: My time with my guests was coming to a close, but we had one more detail to share with Angela, turning back to her grandfather Murphy Jones, we were able to map her paternal family tree all the way back to her 10th great-grandfather, a man named William Brewster.
William was born in Nottinghamshire, England around the year 1570, but he didn't stay in England for long.
DAVIS: "The names of those which came over first, in the year 1620 and were, by the blessing of God, the first beginners, and in a sort, the foundation of all the plantations, and colonies in New England.
William Brewster, Mary his wife, with two sons."
GATES: Any idea what you're looking at?
That is a list of the passengers on the Mayflower.
I can't believe this.
My ancestors did not come here on the Mayflower.
GATES: Your ancestors came on the Mayflower.
GATES: You are descendant from one of the 101 people who sailed on the Mayflower.
DAVIS: Oomph, that's a little bit too much to deal with right now.
GATES: Did you ever in your wildest dreams think that you may have descended from people who laid the foundation for this country?
GATES: The paper trail had run out for Angela and Jeh... You're looking at the names of all of the ancestors...
It was time show them their full family trees.
JOHNSON: Oh, my.
Look at this.
This looks like a Department of Homeland Security Org Chart.
GATES: This is Jeh Johnson Org Chart.
JOHNSON: Yes, there I am at the bottom.
GATES: Seeing his roots stretch back centuries, on both sides of the color line, allowed Jeh to reflect on how his ancestors embody the American experience, in all its diversity.
JOHNSON: It, tells me something about how, complicated our nation is, and how often life is contrary to stereotypes.
JOHNSON: You know, when they say you can't make this stuff up.
GATES: No, you can't make it up.
JOHNSON: Right, so it'd be, it'd be hard to sell this movie.
GATES: But it's the real American history.
GATES: It's the real history of race.
GATES: That's why I want everybody to do their family trees.
GATES: 'Cause it's only that way that, inductively, we could then, uh, gather the information... JOHNSON: Yes.
GATES: The data to tell a new... JOHNSON: Right.
GATES: Story of American history.
JOHNSON: That's true.
GATES: For Angela, the experience made clear her deep connection to the women and men who blazed the trail that she's been walking for so long... DAVIS: It inspires me, let me put it that way.
It makes me feel full.
It makes me feel as if there have always been others accompanying me as I've done this work.
Of course there are, but I'm talking about those who came before me, that they've always been with me, they've always walked with me.
DAVIS: And I want to thank you, so much, for doing the work that uncovered this information, which I never would have predicted, never, ever.
GATES: And look, it made you who you are.
GATES: That's the end of our search for the ancestors of Angela Davis and Jeh Johnson... Join me next time when we unlock the secrets of the past for new guests on another episode of Finding Your Roots.