The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) features “Finding Your Roots,” with Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. On this show, singer Carly Simon learned she was some 10 percent black through a pardo Cuban ancestor, the descendant of slaves. African American radio host Joe Madison learned that his great-grandfather was a Confederate soldier who fought with Robert E. Lee, and married a black woman. On the February 21 episode titled “And Still I Rise,” it was Angela Davis’ turn to be surprised.
Through DNA and meticulous research, the African American Davis learned that her tenth great-grandfather was William Brewster, who was born in England in 1570 and came to America on the Mayflower. “No, I can’t believe this,” said Davis. “My ancestors did not come here on the Mayflower. That’s a little bit too much to deal with right now.”
According to the official PBS introduction, “Angela Davis has been deeply involved in movements for social justice around the world. Her work as an educator – both at the university level and in the larger public sphere – has always emphasized the importance of building communities of struggle for economic, racial, and gender justice.” As some viewers may have noticed, PBS left out a few items of significance.
Angela Davis was a member of the Communist Party USA, founded and funded by the Soviet Union. Davis’ dedication to the USSR was such that in 1979 the USSR awarded her the Lenin Peace Prize. The following year, Davis ran for vice president of the United States with the Communist Party USA on a ticket with old-line Stalinist Gus Hall.
Davis and Hall made another bid in 1984, again losing to Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. PBS omits this record and bills Davis as a scholarly advocate of social and economic justice. If anybody thought she isn’t, it would be hard to blame them.
Angela Davis couldn’t deal with the reality that one of her ancestors was William Bradford. Taxpayers may find it hard to deal with a government television “service” that indulges such distortion and journalistic malpractice.
Catalyst articles by K. Lloyd Billingsley | Full Biography and Publications