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Morehouse Hosts Screening of “African American Lives 2” with Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Tom Joyner

By Add Seymour Jr.

Nationally-syndicated radio show host Tom Joyner rested his chin in his hand and then shook his head.

The shock of hearing that two of his great-great uncles were electrocuted for a 19th century murder they didn’t commit still gets to him, even though months have gone by since Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. first told Joyner about that and other parts of his lineage during the taping of the new PBS documentary, African American Lives 2.

“It’s a mixture of emotions from sad, to proud, to just wanting to curse, to wanting to cry,” he said.

Joyner’s reaction was similar to those of singer Tina Turner, comedian Chris Rock, actors Morgan Freeman and Don Cheadle along with seven others who had their backgrounds traced in the second edition of the Gates’ four-part series.

Gates and Joyner talked about the experience during a discussion and preview of “African American Lives 2” on Tuesday, Jan. 29, at the Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel. Presented by the Leadership Center at Morehouse College and The Coca-Cola Company, the evening provided nearly 400 in attendance a chance to see part of the documentary, which premieres on PBS stations on Feb. 6.

It was Gates’ idea to use the latest DNA and genealogical technology to take a diverse group of entertainers, athletes and other notable people on a journey tracing their ancestry as far back as possible making the series not only an African American story, but also an American story, he said.

Comedian Chris Tucker had his heritage traced back to Angola in the first installment of the documentary in 2006.

“It changed my life,” Tucker said Tuesday. “It gives you so much pride and power.”

In African American Lives 2, Rock found out his great-great grandfather was an elected member of the South Carolina state legislature. Cheadle was told his ancestors were enslaved by Native Americans.

And Joyner heard the story of his two great uncles.

Joyner said young people should learn several things from these stories.

“That their destinies are not hopeless,” he said. “That there were people who came before them and hopefully this series and what (Gates) is doing will inspire them.”

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