Summary

In February 2006 in the US, PBS aired a landmark overview of African American history that used the family stories of eight celebrities as a way of understanding the hurdles successive generations of Blacks have had to leap. Notables included Oprah Winfrey, Quincy Jones, and Whoopi Goldberg. Meanwhile, the producers of PBS have chosen to air a "bridge special" in February 2007 in the US, which will focus exclusively on what Henry Louis Gates and his team of historians and DNA specialists have learned about Oprah Winfrey's heritage. 'African American Lives' interviews with Oprah made for riveting TV as she talked candidly about a childhood of loneliness, molestation, and teenage pregnancy. She also admitted to an early restlessness, a feeling that somehow she was going to rewrite the script of her life. At one point, Oprah told of watching her grandmother boil clothes in a black pot: "'One day you're going to have to learn this for yourself,' she said to me... I watched and I looked like I was paying attention, but distinctly recall a feeling that, 'No, I'm not. This will not be my life.'o Setting those memories against footage of Oprah's parents and grandparents, Professor Gates took Oprah back on a journey of discovery, showing how close analysis of census records, tax rolls, land deeds and other material could call up the ghosts of her distant past--her great grandparents and even their parents' parents--and reveal what their legacy may have been that made Oprah the survivor she became. Oprah discovered that an ancestor of hers owned land after the Civil War (shockingly, he managed to secure 240 acres--practically unheard of for an ex-slave) and on it ran a school for black children. She was astonished and moved to discover that education had been a priority for her family for more than a century. She was also surprised when the show presented DNA evidence that showed her assumptions about her African American origins residing in the Zulu tribe were wrong, and that they lay within another tribe. FINDING OPRAH'S ROOTS will be a guide to the techniques and resources Professor Gates used in the Feb. 06 broadcast - and that he'll make even greater use of in the Feb. 07 broadcast - to restore to Oprah her sense of where she came from. In the book, emphasis will be placed on making the information as user-friendly as possible for readers trying to search out their own roots.