CNN host makes discovery about his family's past that shocks him (2023)


CNN's Victor Blackwell visits the new International African American Museum in Charleston, South Carolina, where he traces his own family tree with resources from the museum's Center for Family History. #CNN #News


There is a new museum in Charleston, South Carolina, dedicated to hundreds of years of African-American history.

It's black history in global context.

And through individual stories to show off the expanse and residents of the museum's Center for Family History.

Researchers traced, my genealogy and I.

Listen as a black man with deep roots in the American South.

I thought I knew where my story was headed.

I was very wrong.

Very few moments in my career have ever brought me to this.

This is when it happened at the International African American Museum in Charleston, South Carolina, which opens this month.

Six centuries of history, packed into 150,000 square feet at the historic Gaston's Wharf Above, 40% of all enslaved Africans would have come in through Gaston's Wharf.

We've been referred to as the ground.

Zero of importation of enslaved people into United, States.

Dr., Tanya Mathews is the museum's president and CEO.

A space of solemnity or celebration.

Yes, I refuse to choose tribal art and contemporary fashion.

Relics of protest and reports of resistance.


This infusion of trauma and joy constantly that we like to to talk about.

Here, you get the full story, but you're going to get all the context in it.

What, arguably, is the best illustration of full context.

Is the museum's Center for Family History.

It's, a team of researchers with access to millions of records that can trace African-American lineage, sometimes back to a slave ship that came into this very port.

The expert genealogist here spent months tracing my lineage, and this was the day of the long awaited reveal.

Make sure you got a box of Kleenex by you and sit there and enjoy.

That's the museum's top genealogist, Dr.

Shelley Murphy, on the laptop.

She's joining us from the University of Virginia.

This is a tree, just a snapshot of your tree.

And I'm following your maternal line., Wow.

That's, a lot to see in the tree.

You see that box? Well, that represents David Vinny.

My great grandfather's, great grandfather.

He lived in coastal Richmond, County, Virginia, on a farm with his wife, Judy, and their 18 children.

And in 1871.

He filed this claim to be reimbursed for livestock and supplies requisitioned by union troops during the Civil War.

Another thing that is significant is that he owned the land that he used on and it was 23 acres.

Where did a man in the 1870s so soon after the end of slavery, get the money to buy 23, acres?, Absolutely.

And and the thing of it is I believe in question.

He said he was free, born.

Well for some answers.

We have to go back more than 300 years to my great great great great great, great, great great great great grandmother.


She arrived on a ship in Northumberland County Virginia in 17, 12 before America was America.

Her granddaughter, my eight times great grandmother.

Bess, was with her.


According to this centuries old deposition that Dr.

Murphy's team, uncovered.

Why a deposition? We'll, learn that a little later.

And Bess at the time was about 13 years.


Witnesses apparently said they looked like they were Indians.

Researchers believe that Mary and Bess were actually Mantovani, like these people of that region of Virginia called the Northern Neck.

We're, not sure where they came.

From, but Thomas Smith of Richmond County did enslave one of Bess as children.

And, that was Sarah.


It's Sarah.

My, seven times great grandmother who changes the trajectory of her children and all her descendants who followed.

There was a law back in 17 05.

That declared that all children that are enslaved are free.

Their condition would be based on whatever their mother wants., Remember, Sarah and Bess arrived free, people., So Sarah has a lawsuit, that's filed, saying We're free.

This is the actual lawsuit filed by Sarah suing for her freedom and for the freedom of her descendants.

And that deposition, it was from a witness who saw Mary and Bess arrive decades.


So in 1791, the court agreed with Sarah and her children, the grandchildren and all of those relatives who were descendants of Mary, and this are going to be free that my ancestors filed and sued for their freedom.

It is remarkable.

We're, not done.

We're, not done.

And we're not done.


We're, not done.

Let me get it.

Let me get a Kleenex, doc.

I know you have a box, Sheriff, but not all of Sarah's family was free.


The court's decision, Sarah's enslavers illegally sold her daughter, Rachel, and then Rachel was sold.


And for the next 20 years, unaware of the court's ruling, Rachel, and her children remained in bondage when she learned of the decision in 18 07 more than a quarter century after her mother's groundbreaking lawsuit for freedom.

Rachel filed this lawsuit against her enslave her, claiming that she was the daughter of a free, woman., And therefore.

She and her children should also be free., And, guess, what?, The witnesses and things all came through, and they were awarded their freedom So.

What do you think this is? Oh man.

To? Be an enslaved woman suing a slave master to do it twice in one bloodline, individual.

You're, lying started out, enslaved and became free to up and to where you're at right, now.

It became free because those women fought for it.

I'm, going to tell you what, Victor, the women in your family.

It's unbelievable.

It fills in a lot of gray.

A lot of blank space.

There was nothing there.

There was an assumption.


There are names, relatives and places and stories.

It certainly fills in more of the story of my family's place in this country.

I am so grateful to the people at that museum.

They spent months researching my lineage and they've.

Given me, this book.

This has the documents copies of the documents and maps and death records and military records.

This is not what I expected.

It is remarkable.

It is not what I expected to ask.


What was your mom's reaction? Oh, man.

My mother's reaction, first, I had explained it a couple of times.

Right, because no one expected this And.

It then started this kind of scavenger hunt for details, planning.

A trip back to Northumberland., Lizzie and Ron are still with us to go and visit the Mattapan.

I mean, to know that these women sued twice and one.

And in that day and age.


For a woman but for a woman who'd been enslaved to sue.


I can't even imagine the witnesses to come forward to support them.

You're from strong stock, and that's for sure.


The women in here during the break, Lizzie, that it's so difficult to trace the lineage of African-Americans, because for centuries enslaved people were inventory., They didn't keep accurate birth and death and marriage for as much as marriage was recognized or acknowledged.

Those records, absolute.

And because of the constant selling and reselling and loaning and bringing back.

It was impossible to keep up.

You know.

What's so brilliant about the women of your family? Set.

The law that you were talking about was designed because of all the sexual assaults.

Through all these pregnancies.

And, it was like.

What do we do with these mixed race? Children? They created that law so that those children would be born into slavery., The fact: that, sure, the women in your family took that law and flipped it and flipped it.

Yeah., Brilliant., Yeah, absolutely brilliant., In, credible research and incredible story.

And I just found myself wondering, with all the restrictions on curriculum that are being imposed in about half the country.

It will become extremely difficult, if not impossible, for many young people to kind of learn this story or its equivalent.

I mean.

It's quite a moment in the country.

Our, thanks again to the International African American Museum.

They have the resources on their website.

For you to start this journey of your own.


They continue to grow.

They will do this on a one on one basis.


This is a stunning display of African American history there at the port in Charleston.

Again, thanks to them.

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