‘Who Do You Think You Are?’

Except for the odd basketball game, I don’t watch television. The images conflict with the dialogue and video running in my head, which I need to protect when I write. But I made an exception Friday night and watched Emmitt Smith’s journey in search of his roots on “Who Do You Think You Are?”

What attracted me first was Smith’s megawatt smile and gentle persona, which I assume he abandoned with abandon on the football field. His gorgeous wife and adorable children helped persuade me to spend an hour watching. I’d already seen a couple of minutes when I floated through the room as Oprah interviewed him – and registered that he was going through the same stuff I am with disappearing gravestones. But at least I can sic the power of my pen and various political friends on the city of Hartford. There are no humans for Smith to tackle over the desecrated graves of his ancestors in Monroe County, Alabama.

His story is a truly that of America: a man who traces his black roots back to a white slave owner from Virginia who “bred” Emmitt Smith’s great-great grandmother. The fury is redeemed by the pride of a visit to his ancestral homeland in Africa.

The program left me with a few reflections: I realize the drama came from the journey from his parents’ house in Florida, to Burnt Corn, Alabama, to the Puryear clan’s enclave in Virginia. But I was left with questions. What did he learn about his mother’s family or about William Watson?

Finding African roots for me was easy. I scraped the inside of my cheek and sent the swab to Family Tree DNA. The results came back that I was 100 percent West African. Any other blood had to come through males, and since I don’t have any brothers, I can’t obtain the information. But it means that my great-great-great grandmother Mary Ann —– Houston who was born in Virginia in 1815 had a female ancestor who came from Africa. My mother could have told me that, but she would have embellished it with stories of witch doctors and conjure women.

Emmitt Smith was lucky that his parents were still alive. I hope he asked more questions and got much detail from both of them.

To be continued …

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