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Maya Rudolph Learning About Her Family's Lineage of Slavery Will Break Your Heart

By Vivian Kane | Videos | January 19, 2016 |

By Vivian Kane | Videos | January 19, 2016 |

The last time PBS’ Finding Your Roots was in the news, it was because Ben Affleck had persuaded the show’s producers to cut out the troubling parts of his lineage, his slave-owning ancestors. In this week’s episode, Maya Rudolph had her history explored, and the show traced her maternal lineage back as far as a five-year-old unnamed slave in Kentucky.

As if it’s not heartbreaking enough to learn that your family has roots in slavery, the idea of a child that young is just crushing. Especially considering Rudolph herself (with husband Paul Thomas Anderson) has four young children, ages four to ten.

I just think of my kids. That’s really hard to see…Wow, I just can’t believe what I’m looking at. Just when I understood what the numbers were that I’m looking at, it’s what broke my heart. You just don’t think of details, because you don’t have them. So, you can’t think of…I see 5, and I think of my daughter.

Just a warning here, seeing this incredible woman learn of these discoveries is more than a little overwhelming. There is a little sweetness in this bitter, though, with another ancestor who went to court to fight for the freedom left to him in him owner’s will. And, shockingly for the context of the 1830s, he won.

How is that even possible? I can’t imagine what the odds could have been, and then they went in his favor. To me, that’s tremendous courage.

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