Angela Davis Discovers Ancestor Was Mayflower Pilgrim in Episode of ‘Finding Your Roots’

New truths were revealed about the family of this Black Power movement leader.

In a Feb. 21 episode of Finding Your Roots, civil rights activist Angela Davis discovered that she is descended from a passenger on the Mayflower.

According to Tuesday’s episode, the results of a DNA test revealed that one of her ancestors, identified as William Brewster, was one of the 101 pilgrims who traveled to the United States aboard the Mayflower.

“Do you know what you’re looking at?” the show’s host, Henry Louis Gates Jr., asked Davis during the episode, showing her a list of the passengers on the Mayflower.

“No. I can’t believe this,” Davis responded. “No, my ancestors did not come here on the Mayflower.”

Davis’ initial mission was for Gates’ team to dig into the true identity of her maternal grandparents, who Davis’ mother, Sallye Bell, a foster child, had never met .

Research found that the father of Davis’ mother was John Austin Darden, a white lawyer from Alabama who was considered a prominent and wealthy member of his community.

“He has my mother’s lips. It’s so funny, I can see her in him,” Davis said as they viewed a photo of Darden and compared the resemblances beside a photo of Bell, whose biological mother was Black.

“I guess I’m both glad but I’m also really angry … my mother may not have been the only one,” Davis added. “She may have siblings who are half Black. So this actually opens up so many other questions.”

Gates also revealed truths of other distant ancestors, including one from the 1700s who was a slave owner in Georgia. Davis’ father, Benjamin Frank Davis, never told her that her paternal grandfather, Murphy Jones, was a white man who had multiple children with her grandmother, Mollie Spencer.

The episode also revealed that Spencer’s father, a Black man named Isom Spencer, was born a slave in 1824 on a Marengo County cotton plantation. He was freed after the Civil War ended, but had to fight in court to demand freedom for his nieces and nephews, who the plantation owner tried to retain as slaves.

“I assume that my ancestors lived on plantations as slaves. But of course I didn’t know who they were. I didn’t know who the slave owners were,” Davis said, expressing sadness for her enslaved ancestors.