Black Panther Angela Davis discovers her ancestor came to the US on the Mayflower
Famous Black Panther and political activist Angela Davis has discovered that one of her ancestors was a passenger on the Mayflower in 1620.
She appeared on an episode of PBS’s Finding Your Roots on Tuesday, during which she also learned that both her mother’s father and her father’s father were white men and descendants of slave owners.
Davis, 79, became nationally known in 1970 when guns she owned were used in the holding up of a Marin County courtroom in California which left four dead, including the judge.
After the FBI issued a warrant for her arrest she went on the run and became listed as one of the department’s 10 Most Wanted. After her eventual arrest she spent 16 months in jail before being found not guilty.
Angela Davis, 79, appeared on an episode of PBS’s Finding Your Roots on Tuesday, during which she also learned that both her mother’s father and her father’s father were both white men and descendants of slave owners
It was revealed that Davis is a descendant of William Brewster (pictured), who traveled to the US aboard the Mayflower with his wife, Mary Wentworth Brewster, in 1620
Davis was born in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1944 during an era of segregation and violent racial division in the South.
While studying in West Germany in her youth she was drawn to far-left politics and upon returning to the US became involved with the Black Panthers and the Communist Party USA.
She appeared shocked during the TV interview that aired this week in which Finding Your Roots host Henry Louis Gates, Jr. told her of her ancestry.
‘No. I cant believe this. My ancestors did not come here on the Mayflower,’ she said.
The Mayflower was an English boat that brought white English families, known as the Pilgrims, to the American continent to permanently establish the New England colony in 1620.
‘You are descended from the 101 people who sailed on the Mayflower,’ reiterated Gates Jr., who is the director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University.
The one-hour show, in which public figures learn about their ancestry, outlined how William Brewster, who traveled aboard the boat with his wife Mary Wentworth Brewster, was Davis’s 10th great-grandfather.
Mary was one of only five adult women from the Mayflower to have survived the first winter after arriving in the US and one of only four such to survive until the ‘first Thanksgiving’ in 1621, which she was said to have helped cook.
The revelation caused many to point out the complexity of ancestry and on social media some suggested that by certain logic Davis should pay black reparations.
The concept of reparations – an idea she has endorsed in the past – is that people with ancestors who were enslaved should be financially reimbursed by those whose ancestors enslaved them.
‘This vividly illustrates the absurdity of reparations as a concept, among other things,’ said one person on Twitter, in response to a clip of the revelation.
‘Before any talk about reparations everybody needs to take the ancestry DNA test. I think a lot of people would be shocked to to discover who they were descended from,’ said another.
Davis shot to fame in 1970 when guns she owned were used in the holding up of a Marin County courtroom in California, leaving four dead
Davis was born in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1944 during an era of segregation and severe racial violence in the South. While studying in West Germany in her youth she was drawn to far-left politics and upon returning to the US became involved with the Black Panthers and the Communist Party USA
An engraving of the Mayflower, the English boat that brought white puritans to the New World in 1620
‘This vividly illustrates the absurdity of reparations as a concept, among other things,’ said one person on Twitter, in response to a clip of the revelation
The revelation caused many to point out the complexity of ancestry and on social media some suggested that by certain logic Davis should pay black reparations
Davis also made discoveries about her mother, Sallye Bell, who was found to be the daughter of a successful white Alabama lawyer who himself descended from a slave owner.
Bell was a school teacher and grew up in a foster home meaning she never knew either of her biological parents. Her mother had genetics that traced back to Africa but her father was John Austin Darden, who was also involved in politics, and was born in Rockford Coosa, Alabama, in 1879.
‘He has my mother’s lips,’ Davis said as she was presented a photo of her grandfather. ‘I can’t get used to the fact this is my mother’s father.’
A clipping from an old Alabama newspaper shone light on who Darden had been.
‘The former publisher of the Goodwater Enterprise, who served as both a representative and a senator at various times from 1914 to 1933, had practiced law here 40 years.’
‘Was he a member of the Ku Klux Klan or the white citizens council?’ Davis asked. ‘That’s something I would also want to know. Because in those days in order to achieve that power one had to thoroughly embrace white supremacy.’
‘I’m both glad and I’m angry. I’m really, really angry,’ she added.
John Austin Darden (pictured) was a successful attorney in Alabama and was involved in state politics. He is Davis’s maternal grandfather
Davis’s mother (right) was a school teacher in Birmingham, Alabama
Davis’s mother Sallye Bell (right) grew up in a foster home and did not know who her biological parents were. It was revealed that her father was John Austin Darden
Stephen Darden, Davis’s fourth great grandfather, was born in colonial Virginia around 1750 and was in the revolutionary war. He moved to Georgia after the war and records indicate he owned four slaves
As Gates went back further in time things got murkier still. Stephen Darden, her fourth great grandfather, was born in colonial Virginia around 1750.
He was a patriot that played the drums during the Revolutionary War, according to a muster roll. Afterwards he moved from Virginia to Georgia, where he owned a farm and at least six slaves.
‘I always imagine my ancestors as the people who were enslaved. My mind and my heart are swirling with all of these contradictory emotions,’ said Davis.
‘I’m glad on the one hand we’ve begun to solve this mystery, we have something we didn’t have before, but at the same time I think it makes me even more committed to struggling for a better world.’
‘This world that could give rise to such a beautiful person as my mother was not the world I want to see in the future,’ she added.
Davis’s father Benjamin Frank Davis grew in up in Lyndon, Alabama. His mother was Mollie Spencer but similarly, nothing was known about his father.
Alabama Census records indicated that for at least ten years Mollie lived next door to a white man named Murphy Jones. Using genetic profiles of Murphy’s known living relatives researchers found multiple matches to Angela, indicating that Jones was her grandfather.
Records stated that he sold her two acres of land for two hundred dollars and that the two were likely relatively close.
Court records uncovered by PBS showed that Davis’s grandfather brought a complaint against a slaver over his nephews, who were being held in the plantation under ‘apprenticeships’
Davis (pictured in Raleigh in in 1974) said she was glad learn her grandfather had challenged the slave owner in court. ‘I’m happy to find there’s a motif of resistance there because that is what I feel I’ve been trying to do since I was a teenager,’ she said
Mollie Spencer’s father was named Isom Spencer and was listed as collateral on a loan document filed by a slave owner named William K. Pauling, who owned a plantation in Marengo, Alabama.
‘I assume that my ancestors lived on plantations as slaves, but of course I didn’t know who they were and I didn’t know who the slave owners were,’ she said.
It transpired that Isom was a remarkable figure who marked the transition of her family from enslaved to free. Court records uncovered by PBS showed he even brought a complaint against the slaver over his nephews, who were being held in the plantation under ‘apprenticeships’.
‘I’m happy to find there’s a motif of resistance there because that is what I feel I’ve been trying to do since I was a teenager,’ said Davis, reflecting on her grandfather’s struggle.