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Identity

LeVar Burton shares thoughtful reaction to finding out he has a Confederate ancestor

“There’s some conflict roiling inside of me right now, but also oddly enough I feel a pathway opening up…"

Black and white photo of LeVar Burton's great-great-grandfather and closeup of LeVar Burton's face

James Henry Dixon was a North Carolina farmer with a wife and children when he fathered Burton's great-grandmother.

The United States has long been seen as a "melting pot," a "nation of immigrants," and a country where people of diverse backgrounds mix and mingle together under the common banner of freedom and liberty.

It's a bit more complicated than that, though, especially for Black Americans whose ancestors came to the U.S. by force as part of the "peculiar institution" of human chattel slavery. Through the cruel system of buying, selling and breeding human beings for generations, many people's ancestral knowledge was stolen from them, a historical reality that prompted "Black" with a capital "B" as an ethnic and cultural identifier for people of the African diaspora.

Curiosity about the varied backgrounds of Americans is the basis of "Finding Your Roots," a PBS series hosted by Harvard professor Henry Gates, Jr. The show has revealed some surprises in some famous people's DNA, including the beloved "Reading Rainbow" host, LeVar Burton.


Burton sat down with Gates to go over what researchers had found out about his lineage, and what they discovered floored him. Burton said that his mom, who had raised him and his siblings as a single mother from the time he was 11, had never wanted to share anything about her own personal history, so he didn't know much about his ancestry.

As it turns out, the man who was on record as being Burton's great-great-grandfather, Louis Sills, was not actually his blood ancestor at all. The man who fathered Mary Sills, Burton's great-grandmother, was actually a white man named James Henry Dixon.

Burton knew Sills when he was a child and referred to her as "Granny." He had always been told that Granny had some Native American ancestry, but she was actually half white, her father being a North Carolina farmer who had a wife and children at the time Sills was born.

Not only that, but Dixon had served in the junior reserves for the Confederacy as a teenager, too young to be in active combat when the war broke out in 1861. So not only did Burton have a white direct ancestor but that ancestor was on the side of defending the enslavement of Black people.

"Are you kidding me?" was Burton's initial response to this news. "Oh my god. I did not see this coming."

Once the news sunk in, Burton thoughtfully reflected on what it might have meant.

“I often wonder about white men of the period and how they justify to themselves their relations with Black women, especially those in an unbalanced power dynamic," Burton said. "There has to be a powerful disconnect created emotionally and mentally. So it’s possible in my mind that he could’ve contemplated it and was conflicted at worst, maybe repentant at best. And then there’s the possibility that he didn’t think about it at all."

Through we don't know the nature of the sexual relationship between Sills and Dixon, sexual violence was a ubiquitous feature of enslavement in the U.S. and the power dynamic between white and Black people at that raises questions about whether any relations could be viewed as truly consensual. Previous episodes of "Finding Your Roots" has unveiled relationships that defy assumptions one way or the other, so that element of Burton's family history remains a mystery. However, Dixon fathered at least nine children and had at least 40 grandchildren, meaning Burton likely has white relatives scattered throughout the country.

When Gates asked Burton how this revelation of having a white Confederate great-great-grandfather made him feel, he said, "There's some conflict roiling inside of me right now, but it, it, it also, oddly enough, I feel, I, I feel a pathway opening up…I believe that as Americans, we need to have this conversation about who we are and how we got here. But yet I see that we're so polarized politically and racially. We're not talking to each other. And so I've been looking for an entry point to talk to white America."

"Well, that door just opened," said Gates.

"Here it is," responded Burton. "Here it is."

Some people didn't understand Burton's reaction, highlighting the complexity of racial identity and the history of race relations in the U.S. in particular due to the reality of race-based slavery. One of the things people love about "Finding Your Roots" is how it opens up entirely new perspectives in people's own life stories, which is a very personal thing.

As Burton wrote in response to a commenter on X, "It is one thing to know something on an intellectual level, another matter entirely to be introduced to an emotional truth that is both surprising and wholly unexpected."

Burton found out a lot more about his ancestry on both sides, including the fact that education and literacy—which Burton has dedicated much of his career to—can be traced back several generations through his father's side. His father left when he was 11 and he didn't know anything about his background, but he actually had educators in his family going back to at least 1880.

Though Burton said it was "overwhelming" to find all of this out about his lineage, he also said he was "ecstatic" to learn it.

"Never in a million years would I ever have imagined that you would find information like this for my family," Burton told Gates.

Watch Burton's entire ancestry being revealed on "Finding Your Roots," starting at the 12:00 mark and continuing again at 32:50:

Image from YouTube video.

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@ustheremingtons/TikTok

There's a lot to be gleaned from this.

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All in all, it enables couples to handle the daunting new chapter as a team, making it less stressful on both parties. Or at least equally stressful on both parties. Democracy!

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This time around, for baby number two, Remington had the privilege of taking seven weeks off (to be clear—his employer offered four weeks, and he used an additional three weeks of PTO).

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Calgee Sustainable Vegan Omega-3 is a cleaner, greener alternative to fish oil.

Over the last few decades Omega-3 supplements have become incredibly popular among health-conscious consumers, and it’s not hard to understand why. Omega-3 is a rich source of essential fatty acids, which have been linked to improvements in brain function, inflammation, chronic diseases, and overall wellness.

The only problem with Omega-3 is that most of it is derived from fish oil, and the mass production of fish oil is bad for the environment and your health. But it doesn’t have to be this way. With Calgee Sustainable Vegan Omega-3, you can get all the benefits of Omega-3 without the baggage. This eco-friendly alternative to fish oil is revolutionizing the wellness industry, promising a solution that benefits our planet as much as our health.

Why We Need Omega-3

Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), are superheroes in the world of nutrients, wielding powerful benefits for our brain, heart, and joints. Some researchers believe they play a role in maintaining cognitive functions like memory, focus, and mood, nourishing our mental health.

But that's not all. Omega-3s are heart heroes, too. They're known to reduce inflammation throughout the body, lower blood pressure, and improve cardiovascular health, keeping our hearts pumping strong. For anyone looking to ease joint pain or reduce the risk of heart disease, adding a dose of Omega-3 to the diet is a no-brainer.

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Unfortunately, while Omega-3 may be great for you, it’s bad for the planet when made from fish oil. As the industry stands right now, about 50 fish are killed to produce just one bottle of traditional Omega-3 supplements. This overfishing is stripping our oceans of vital species and disrupting marine ecosystems. It's a domino effect that impacts not just the fish but the entire aquatic food chain.

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Community

Man uses social media to teach others ASL so kids don't experience what he did as a child

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Man teaches people ASL so no child experiences what he did

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