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Black celebrities trace slave ancestors

ANCESTORS TRACED: Samuel L. Jackson and Condoleezza Rice

HOLLYWOOD HERO Samuel L. Jackson is amongst the personalities whose ancestry is discovered in a new series of the US programme Finding Your Roots.

The American version of the popular British show Who Do You Think You Are?, Finding Your Roots premieres in the UK this Sunday (February 24) and episode one traces the ancestral backgrounds of Jackson, along with former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Ruth Simmons, president of America’s prestigious Brown University.

Using new and powerful DNA analysis techniques to unlock lost branches of family trees, the show explores race, culture and identity, and will identify the ancestry of a host of black American celebrities, as far back as slavery – as well as revealing the truth about their white ancestors.

In episode one, the featured guests talk about the realities of slavery, recognising the likelihood of them having white ancestors.

“I look at my skin tones, I know that there are white people in my family somewhere,” Jackson says in the programme. Meanwhile, Simmons adds: “The story in [my] family was that my grandmother was in touch with her white relatives in Grapeland. Of course this was whispered about.” And Rice admits: “In America we have trouble talking about what really happened during slavery.”

HOST: Professor Henry Louis Gates

Hosted by Harvard University Professor Henry Louis Gates, Finding Your Roots will also trace the ancestry of guests including jazz star Branford Marsalis, soul singer John Legend and comedy actress Wanda Sykes.

Of the 10-part series, Gates told The Voice: I'm very proud of Finding Your Roots because it introduced millions of people to the wonders of genealogy. It's been so popular here [in America] and I hope UK audiences enjoy it too.”

Finding Your Roots premieres on February 24 at 8pm on PBS America, Sky Channel 166/ Virgin Media 243. Read the full exclusive interview with Henry Louis Gates in the next issue of The Voice, out February 28.

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