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Anita Hill Hits the Genealogy ‘Lottery’ on ‘Finding Your Roots’

Lawyer Anita Hill and activist Brittany Packnett Cunningham walk through their family trees on the acclaimed PBS show “Finding Your Roots,” which returned for its eighth season in January.

Hosted by Harvard University historian and professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., the show takes notable people on a quest to learn more about their ancestry.

In the second episode of the season, Hill learns of his great-great-grandfather, who resided in Bowie County, Texas in 1850. At the time, Bowie County was one of only three known counties, including Utah County, Utah, and Scott County. , Tennessee – which documented the names and information of its enslaved residents.

“It’s like winning the lottery here,” Hill said on the show.

Prior to emancipation, enslaved people were not documented by name in the U.S. Census, making it difficult for genealogists and family records to find enslaved black ancestors in the country before the 1860s. They were usually listed without name, but instead by age and gender as property in county records.

As a lawyer and educator, Hill made history as the first tenured black professor at the University of Oklahoma in 1989. She also became a symbol of women after her testimony at the nomination hearings of the Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in 1991 regarding allegations of workplace sexual harassment. . She is currently a professor of social policy, law, and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies at Brandeis University.

Packnett Cunningham, whose genealogy was also explored in the episode, is a civil rights activist and writer and a former member of former President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. She appeared on the 2017 cover of Essence magazine and was honored at the 2018 BET awards for her activism efforts, and she is an MSNBC contributor.

During her meeting with Gates, she experienced a revelation regarding the mysteries of one of her relatives.

“Oh my God,” Packnett Cunningham said on the verge of tears. “So you found my grandfather.”

During the episode, she learned that her grandfather may have met Packnett Cunningham’s grandmother while visiting one of his siblings, solving the mystery of the conception of his father.

“It wasn’t even a figment of my imagination,” Packnett Cunningham told Gates. “It’s not like there was a story there, and there were holes to fill. There was no story because I didn’t know anything about my grandfather.”

Other personalities in the spotlight this season include actor Terry Crews, actress and director Regina King and the late fashion journalist Andre Leon Talley, among others. New episodes of “Finding Your Roots” air Tuesdays on PBS.

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