Why didn’t Henry Louis Gates and the producers of PBS’s “Finding Your Roots” just ask Ben Affleck’s mother whether she took part in the Freedom Summer of 1964? Over the weekend we went from editing out a section of Affleck’s episode to learning that a basic fact that tied his family’s narrative together is false. The drama of violence and the proximity of Affleck’s mother to the murders of Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner during that summer is nothing less than misleading and points to the possibility of there being more fundamental problems with how research is carried out on the show.
I am in the process of going through old posts in preparation for an essay on the Civil War sesquicentennial. I’ve identified a number of themes that I will explore as I try to place the past few years within a broader context stretching back to the Civil War centennial.
Here is your chance to offer some thoughts about what we’ve experienced since 2011. Who or what do you think were the big winners and losers of the Civil War sesquicentennial? You can be as specific or as broad as you choose. You can identify individuals (past or present), organizations, events and even historical themes/narratives. Feel free to be as creative as you want in formulating your response.
For example, in my opinion one of the big winners of the 150th was the history and memory of the United States Colored Troops. On the other hand, the clear loser was the veneration for and display of the Confederate flag.
This story just continues to get jucier with each passing day. The website Gawker now has the original script for Ben Affleck’s episode of “Finding Your Roots.” Henry Louis Gates has maintained that the decision to focus on another of Affleck’s ancestors had nothing to do with the actor’s request to steer clear of his slave-owning ancestor. The release of the script and the timing of the changes render that explanation as untenable.
Gates clearly has more explaining to do. Given when the edits to the episode were made it now becomes more likely that additional staff members with the show were aware of Affleck’s request and understood why the changes were being made.
The integrity of the show and Gates’s reputation as a public intellectual have both been jeopardized.
Update: Gawker got hold of the original script for Affleck’s segment. It looks like the editorial changes were made in response to the actor’s request to remove references to his slave-owning ancestor.
Late yesterday Ben Affleck released a statement apologizing for requesting that ties to a slave-owning ancestor be edited out of an episode of PBS’s “Finding Your Roots,” hosted by Henry Louis Gates. In the statement Affleck admits to feeling uncomfortable about the connection: “I didn’t want any television show about my family to include a guy who owned slaves. I was embarrassed. The very thought left a bad taste in my mouth.”