We Feel You: Van Jones Is Overcome With Emotions While Learning His Ancestors Were Free Before Slavery Ended

We Feel You: Van Jones Is Overcome With Emotions While Learning His Ancestors Were Free Before Slavery Ended

Henry Louis Gates Jr. continues to fill in the void left by slavery for our people, and we are always here for it.

In this week’s episode of Finding Your RootsGates welcomes political commentator Van Jones and shares insight about his family’s history that stunned the news pundit. Referencing an 1850 census for Douglas Township, Arkansas, Gates revealed that Jones’ family had been listed by name and accounted for—13 years before the Emancipation Proclamation.

In a voiceover, Gates explained, “This was unusual because, at the time, almost no African Americans were listed by name in the federal census. Enslaved people were listed only by age, color, and gender.” Gates and Jones appear onscreen in the trailer, released earlier this week, and the show’s host asks his guest, “Van, what does that mean?” A confused Jones answers, “That they were white?”

Well, not quite. The one-time MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant awardee explained that Jones’ ancestors were free people. This realization brought the consummate professional, whose job over recent years has called for emotional control, to tears. “I’m glad to hear that,” said Jones, “I’m having a hard time even getting my head there. It didn’t even occur to me that would be a possibility.”

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. has given many people a deeper look into their families’ history throughout the nine seasons of Finding Your Roots. Most recently, a clip of his sit-down with activist Angela Davis made its rounds on social media. In it, Gates revealed Davis’ ancestors to be descendants of the Mayflower pilgrims, causing a ripple of commentary about what it means to be biracial in this country both then and now.

Other guests on this season of the show include Jamie Chung, Brian Cox, Billy Crudup, Claire Danes, Jeff Daniels, Viola Davis, David Duchovny, Richard Kind, Joe Manganiello, Tamera Mowry, Edward Norton, Julia Roberts, Danny Trejo, Cyndi Lauper, Carol Burnett, Niecy Nash, Tony Gonzalez, Jim Acosta, Jeh Johnson and more.