Featuring Ta-Nehisi Coates, Ava DuVernay and Janet Mock

Three guests who have helped to redefine Black America in the last decade find their identities challenged as they learn about their family origins.

Ava DuVernay traces her stepfather’s roots in Alabama — an inspiration for her breakout film Selma —to his third great-grandfather, a former slave who registered to vote in the same region where Selma took place; however, her biological roots place her family in the Haitian Revolution on the opposite side she expected: as white French slave owners fleeing the revolt.

Ta-Nehisi Coates follows the ancestry of his Black Panther father to Virginia, where his fourth great-grandmother saw the transition from slavery to freedom, and his mother’s family to Maryland, where his third great-grandmother had a very different experience of the slave era (she lived in freedom and became a successful property owner).

Janet Mock follows the Mock surname to Louisiana, where her third great-grandfather appears to have chosen the name of his white owner, and her maternal roots to Hawaii, where her second great-grandparents were farm laborers and her great-grandmother resisted U.S. encroachment on Hawaiian culture by refusing to learn English.

By placing their ancestors’ lives in the larger context of history, our guests gain a deeper appreciation for their family narratives and see how those narratives illustrate the diversity of the black experience— a diversity that is even reflected in their DNA.

Go to PBS.org/FindingYourRoots to catch up on last week’s episode, “Puritans and Pioneers” featuring Ted Danson, William H. Macy and Mary Steenburgen.