"African American Lives 2," the sequel to the original program, traced the lineage of comedian Chris Rock, singer Tina Turner, Oscar-winning actor Morgan Freeman Jr., and magazine publisher Linda Johnson Rice, among others. Using courthouse documents, plantation ledgers and slave ship records, the subjects learn surprising things about their forebears. One of Rock's ancestors was a South Carolina state senator. One of Turner's ancestors founded the school she attended as a child, though she didn't know about the genealogical link until the program revealed it in a touching moment.
I defy anyone but the most ardent racist to watch this series and not be transformed by what it reveals. I have spoken and exchanged e-mail with Dr. Gates and he says the main message in these programs is that slavery was more about economics than race.
More than slavery and discrimination, the loss of faith and family can be seen as the root of many of the problems in the black community. Even during the worst of times, black families held themselves together by holding onto God. Today, some have lost that faith and chaos threatens, chaos that Barack Obama - or anyone else - cannot repair.
The New York Times Magazine once did a cover story on prosperous black families in Prince Georges County, Md. What these families had in common, other than race, was that all were intact.
Unfortunately, those families are not typical. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2004, just 31.9 percent of black households had both spouses present, compared to 56.1 percent for white households. Hopefully, when intact black families become typical, many of the self-inflicted maladies in the black community will finally become atypical.
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