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Photo: Angela Davis – (Netflix via AP)
What happens when a long-standing race activist and member of the black power movement finds out she’s descended from white people and the cameras are rolling? Must-see television happens.
Angela Davis, a self-proclaimed Marxist and person who has profited off sowing racial division for decades appeared on the PBS series “Finding Your Roots.” But while she was expecting to find out that she descended solely from the evils of the slave trade, it turns out that one of her earliest ancestors came over on the Mayflower.
According to PBS’ findings, Davis descended from William Brewster, who was white and one of the original signers of the Mayflower Compact.
Here’s the clip of how it went down.
CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE VIDEO ALSO.
At first, Davis clearly thinks Gates, the host of the PBS show, is joking. She confidently proclaims, “No, my ancestors did not come here on the Mayflower.” Her laughter and dismissiveness quickly diminished, though, as the reality of the situation settled in with Gates repeating the results of the genealogy test. Davis responds, “Oof. That’s a little bit too much to deal with right now.”
The Daily Wire reviewed the episode and laid out a bit more of what was found, including the fact that her ancestors owned slaves.
According to the episode, Davis’s father, Frank Davis, was legally the son of Mollie Spencer and Edward Davis. But Edward Davis was not his biological father; Spencer and Davis separated before he was born. Instead, Frank Davis was the son of Mollie Spencer and another white man named Murphy Jones. Experts were able to map Davis’s family line through Jones all the way back to William Brewster, an original signer of the Mayflower Compact and a leader of the Plymouth Colony.
Also in the episode, Davis’s maternal grandfather was a white Alabama lawyer and state legislator named John Austin Darden. Through Darden, she is the descendant of a man named Stephen Darden, a drummer born in Virginia who served in the Revolutionary War. Darden then moved to Georgia, where he owned a farm and at least 6 slaves.
“I always imagined my ancestors as the people who were enslaved,” Davis said. “My mind and my heart are swirling with all of these contradictory emotions.”
While this all makes for good television given how wrapped up Davis’ identity has been in false assumptions about her lineage, the cardinal issue remains. Why does this matter? Clearly, Davis has some black ancestry as well, and in a world where people like Davis didn’t push racial division for profit, none of this would matter.
Davis is one of the original figures behind the reparations movement. So how exactly does that work? Does the white, slave-owning part of her write a check to the black part of her? In a world where we force people to pay for the sins of their forefathers, that ceases to be a joke and becomes a valid question.
The point here is not to deny that Davis has faced racial discrimination in her life, though, I think joining the black power movement and becoming a terrorist (after the Civil Rights Act) was the wrong way to handle it. Rather, the point is to show that when you start trying to assign collective guilt to present generations based on the actions of past generations, things get complicated very fast, and those types of complications are repeated in the ancestry of millions upon millions of Americans.