GATES: I'm Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
Welcome to, Finding Your Roots.
In this episode, we'll meet actor, director Regina King and showrunner Damon Lindelof.
Two people who're about to see how their ancestors faced immense traumas.
KING: Pain is inherited, as well as joy.
LINDELOF: I think that one of the ways that we contextualize tragedy as storytellers is, "Tell me the story of the person who made it off the Titanic."
GATES: To uncover their roots, we've used every tool available.
Genealogists combed through the paper trail their ancestors left behind, while DNA experts utilized the latest advances in genetic analysis to reveal secrets hundreds of years old.
KING: Are you serious?
GATES: And we've compiled it all into a book of life.
LINDELOF: That's amazing.
GATES: A record of all of our discoveries.
KING: Very cool.
GATES: That is very cool.
KING: Very, very cool.
GATES: And a window into the hidden past.
LINDELOF: Where we came from is... An essential part of solving life's mystery.
I'm wondering if I'm the first Lindelof to learn this story in over a century.
KING: I don't know what I expected, but this is pretty fantastic.
GATES: Regina and Damon come from very different backgrounds but they share a common thread.
Each has relatives who confronted almost unimaginable challenges.
In this episode, they'll see how their family trees were shaped by those challenges.
Hearing stories they've never heard before, and discovering new facets of their own identities along the way.
(theme music playing) ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ GATES: You might not recognize Damon Lindelof, but you've seen his shows, from Lost, to The Leftovers, to Watchmen.
Over the past two decades, the brilliant writer and TV producer has mixed elements of mystery, fantasy, and metaphysics to explore a dizzying array of ideas.
But for all the complexity of his work, Damon's creative journey began in a simple place, a movie theater in suburban New Jersey.
LINDELOF: Right after I turned four, my dad took me to see Star Wars.
GATES: Oh yeah?
LINDELOF: And I was on his lap... GATES: Wow.
LINDELOF: Um, watching, uh, Star Wars.
And so, it was very loud, and slightly terrifying.
LINDELOF: As a four year old, you can't really distinguish between reality, and fantasy... GATES: Mm-hmm.
LINDELOF: At that point.
You know, I still believed in Santa Claus... GATES: Mm-hmm.
LINDELOF: And the tooth fairy and the Easter Bunny, and, you know, magic.
Um, and so, what I was witnessing is those were real people, Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker.
And, and so, I as soon as it was over, I was like, "I need to see that again."
And that was, kind of, the beginning of my entree into, "“I, I wanna do something...
I wanna, I wanna be a part of this one day.
I wanna make this one day."
GATES: Damon would quickly make good on his childhood dreams.
After college, he moved to Los Angeles, hoping to break into show business.
In less than a decade, he'd teamed up with superstar director JJ Abrams and co-created Lost, the mind-bending story of survival on a mysterious tropical island.
Lost was an instant hit, taking even Damon by surprise.
LINDELOF: I was just so overwhelmed, and terrified, because when the show premiered, and it had a mystery engine, what's going on, on this show?
Where are they going with this?
It feels like they're making it up as they go along?
Well, of course, we were, I mean, I met JJ Abrams, the last week of January and then thought, you know, five weeks later, we had a screenplay, and we were go, we were suddenly running to Hawaii.
And six weeks after that, we had edited together the thing.
So, when was the time to come to start to talk about the second episode?
GATES: It sounds terrifying.
LINDELOF: It was horrifying.
So, you're, you're sort of like you're just shoveling coal... GATES: Yeah.
LINDELOF: Into the engine, and it cannot stop.
GATES: By the time Lost actually did end, it was one of the most celebrated shows in television history, giving Damon almost unlimited artistic freedom.
Which eventually brought him and me together.
In 2017, inspired, in part, by an episode of Finding Your Roots, Damon found himself looking for a project that would allow him to explore race relations in America, he ended up focusing on Watchmen, an iconic graphic novel about anguished superheroes, that had been a favorite of his since childhood.
LINDELOF: It really stuck with me.
This writer, Alan Moore, um, and the illustrator, Dave Gibbons... GATES: Mm-hmm.
LINDELOF: Um, I just, I just worshiped them as gods.
And so, I treated this text, this thing, Watchmen, you know, for someone who is, is not, um, a particularly religious guy, this, this was my Bible.
LINDELOF: And so, after the success of Lost and, um, I started working with HBO on this other show, The Leftovers, they said to me, "Hey, do you wanna do Watchmen as a television series?"
And I said, "No.
Eh, you leave it alone.
It's, it's sacred."
And they said, "Okay, got it."
And then they came back a couple of years later and said, "Hey, um, we know that you didn't wanna do a Watchman a couple of years ago, have you changed your mind?"
And I said, "No, I have not."
I'm even, I'm even more steadfast... GATES: Right.
LINDELOF: This time around.
And then the third time they asked, um, a, a number of things that kind of like shifted in my life.
And more importantly, I had started watching your show... GATES: Mm-hmm.
LINDELOF: Um, uh, Finding Your Roots, and, uh, and, and, and, and r...
Starting to read a lot of Ta-Nehisi Coates.
LINDELOF: And I was starting to really think about, um, you know, genetic trauma, um, not just, uh, uh, specific to an individual, but also to America.
This idea of like, "What are the things that have happened in our history, that, um, that we just passed down from generation to generation to generation, but we try to keep locked up in a closet?"
LINDELOF: And how could I authentically tell those stories?
And then the thi, and then the third time they said, "We will literally let you do anything you want to with Watchmen."
LINDELOF: And I started to wonder, could Watchmen start to hold these other stories?
LINDELOF: And so, I said to HBO, "When you say anything, do you mean anything?"
And they said, "Yes."
GATES: Damon invited me to make a cameo appearance in his series...
If you like you can call me "Skip".
Playing the United States Secretary of the Treasury in a re-imagined America.
Your DNA will be processed exclusively here.
This led to Damon appearing on this episode.
Joined by the star of Watchmen, my second guest, actor, director Regina King.
Like Damon, Regina traces her success back to her childhood.
She grew up in suburban Los Angeles, with a single mother who was devoted to nurturing her creativity.
KING: She allowed us to just dream out loud, you know?
KING: My mother would, kind of would let my sister and I, whatever, um, art we would want to try, she would find a class or an opportunity at the park or whatever, for us to experience it.
She always believed that art's an, arts are education.
KING: But the only thing that stuck or that I loved were the acting classes.
I just was like, "You get to be anything."
GATES: Regina's acting classes would do much more than "“stick"”" As a teenager, she landed a role on 227, an NBC sitcom, setting her on a path to stardom.
But with her bright future still ahead, Regina had a painful experience that's lingered in her memory.
Tying her to the ugliest parts of our nation's past.
When she was 16, a White man at a supermarket called her the N-word, a scene that troubles her, even to this day.
KING: I don't remember what the reason was for the man to say that, but he said it... GATES: Mm-hmm.
KING: And I mean, just boiled.
KING: And then he said, "You..." You know, he said it again.
KING: And by that time, I was so angry, I was crying.
GATES: Oh, of course.
KING: You know I was, I was, angry tears.
KING: It just... GATES: Yeah.
KING: You know, it's like, it, it's ra...
The rage that you feel is the equivalent to the love that you feel when you have a child.
GATES: Uh, yeah, that's... KING: You know what I mean?
'Cause it's a first.
It's a... GATES: Yeah.
KING: You know, you, you know that it happens people have children every day.
KING: You know that it happens, people have been called names every day... GATES: Mm-hmm.
KING: But it's that particular name out of a White... GATES: Mm-hmm.
KING: Person's mouth, and you see, feel the viciousness... GATES: Mm-hmm.
KING: Um, that's behind it.
KING: Um, it is something that I would never understand.
KING: You know what I mean?
Or could... That it's, it's...
But yet I still feel the pain.
GATES: This moment stayed with Regina across the decades that followed.
Informing both her understanding of America's racial dynamics as well as her artistic choices, ultimately bringing her onto the set of Watchmen.
Now reworked by Damon as a meditation on White supremacy and the long shadows of slavery and Jim Crow segregation, themes not commonly explored on mainstream television.
A decision that proved deeply rewarding to Regina.
KING: These stories, um, are always urgent to us as Black people.
KING: We have these conversations all the time.
KING: And it's just all, um, pretty much the same perspective, the same understanding, we feel the same way.
KING: But, um, for the systems to actually start to break down and actually change, there's needs to be conversations at the table with... GATES: Mm-hmm.
KING: People that don't look like us.
GATES: Of course.
KING: And, um, this being written by Damon... GATES: Mm-hmm.
KING: You know, who, or for him, I think, was, he was definitely terrified of how that would be received... GATES: Mm-hmm.
KING: That he would be the pen... GATES: Mm-hmm.
KING: To, um, uh, tell this story.
But, uh, for me, uh, I don't care what the person looks like.
KING: As long as they are doing the research.
KING: They are, um, being collaborative... GATES: Mm-hmm.
KING: Understanding that this is an American story.
KING: And not a Black story.
GATES: Working together, Regina and Damon crafted a piercing look at our nation's traumatic history.
And now, having watched their collaboration unfold up close, I wanted to see how their family trees might have informed it.
I started with Damon, and with a very private pain.
The loss of his father, who passed away in 2002, leaving Damon bereft of both a kindred spirit, as well as a connection to his past.
LINDELOF: My dad was a very creative guy.
He was a banker his entire life, but he told and wrote and was a voracious reader, and a lover of science fiction.
And, I mean, he was a great conversationalist and I think all the time still to this day, I will, you know, I'll read a book or, or see a movie or a TV show and I, I wish that I could talk to him, uh, about it.
LINDELOF: I, I, I go...
I had 29 years with him.
Um, but, uh, it still felt like he left way too soon.
So, um, I, and, and the fact that I now have a son who never met his grandfather, uh, which is the same, I never met his parents.
LINDELOF: Um, um, that makes me really sad.
GATES: Damon told me that much of his father's family history had been lost amidst so many early deaths.
He knew that the Lindelofs were originally from Sweden, but beyond that, this branch of his tree was a mystery.
We set out to unravel that mystery, and uncovered the passenger list for a ship called the SS Amerika, which arrived in New York City on September 11, 1893.
On board was Damon's great-grandfather, Lawrence Lindelof.
An 18-year-old Swedish immigrant, traveling on his own, with just a single piece of luggage to his name.
It's amazing that you found this.
It's amazing the documents exist.
GATES: Do you feel a connection to this guy?
LINDELOF: I, I do and I don't.
I mean, I, it's so hard for me to imagine what it's like to move to a country that you've never been to all by yourself and you don't understand what anyone is saying.
I think that the idea that, you know, he worked his way up from the bottom, uh, makes me immensely proud.
GATES: Yeah, absolutely.
LINDELOF: I do feel like this is the American dream, the bootstraps... GATES: Mm-hmm.
LINDELOF: Um, come over, you know, um, uh, work hard and, um, and your kids will have it better off than you did.
LINDELOF: It all started with this guy.
Uh, who had chutzpah.
I don't know how you say chutzpah in Swedish, but... LINDELOF: Me, me neither.
There's, uh, there's definitely an umlaut involved.
GATES: After arriving in New York, Lawrence found jobs as a lumberman and a railroad laborer before settling in Illinois, where he worked as a house painter and married Damon's great-grandmother, Marie.
But although the Lindelofs would flourish in America, with Lawrence rising up to become a union leader, this story was about to darken.
LINDELOF: "Lindelof, Lawrence P. Head, 34.
Industry: Interior Decorator.
Marie: Wife, 27, mother of how many children?
Number of living: Two.
Lawrence, son, four.
Marigold, daughter, one year, three months.
"” GATES: They're your great-grandparents together in Chicago in the year 1910.
They're living with their two children, including your grandfather, Herbert, here recorded by his middle name, Lawrence.
GATES: And as you could see, Damon, by 1910 your great-grandparents had lost a child.
LINDELOF: Oh, right, yes.
GATES: You see it says... LINDELOF: Okay.
GATES: Number living, numb...
Mother of how many children?
Um, do you know anything about this?
GATES: No family stories?
GATES: Um, would you please turn the page?
Damon, we're back five years before that census was taken.
This is a newspaper article from the Daily Free Press of Streator, Illinois, dated July 7th, 1905.
Uh, would you please read the transcribed section?
LINDELOF: "Distressing accident at Ottawa this morning.
It occurred at the home of Lawrence Lindelof, a painter, residing at 508 West Jefferson Street.
Mrs. Lindelof was in the kitchen with her three-year-old child.
A married sister was visiting her, who also had with her a child aged nine or ten months, when the stove exploded and all four of them were caught in the burning fluid."
GATES: Your great-grandmother, Marie, and her daughter, whose name was Jewel, were caught in a fire.
Did your father ever mention this?
Jewel would have been his aunt?
GATES: To learn more, we contacted some of Damon's distant cousins, they told us the fire began when kerosene was mistaken for water and thrown onto the stove.
Creating an explosion of liquid gas that gave Marie, who was pregnant at the time with Damon's grandfather, no chance to escape.
Can you imagine?
How do you think she coped?
LINDELOF: I, I think that this would have, you know, fundamentally been, um, the end of her happiness, potentially.
LINDELOF: I mean, particularly if...
It's, it's one thing to say that it's a freak accident and it's another to say it was a mistake.
LINDELOF: You know, who was responsible for putting the kerosene on the stove?
It feels like her sister was also, um, injured, and her sister's child.
So I think that something like this would be played over and over and over and over and over again.
Um, and, uh, and I have to imagine that would have affected her ability to form healthy connections with her other kids.
So there's no way that, that wouldn't have, um, been a very dark cloud over that house.
GATES: Damon almost certainly is correct.
Newspaper articles indicate that Marie suffered life-threatening burns.
And though she survived, others in the room weren't so fortunate.
Marie's daughter Jewel and her sister Florence both perished.
Your grandfather was born just months after the accident.
So how do you think all of this affected him and how he was raised and shaped?
LINDELOF: Well, the first question that I have, and I think that in the context of the contemporary era, it wouldn't be a question, is, did he even know?
I mean, is this the kind of...
These sorts of things, this is, what, 1905?
LINDELOF: You know, it, do parents sit their kids down and essentially say, "This horrific tragedy happened when Mommy was pregnant with you?"
GATES: Yeah, I think you, you're probably right.
That's why I was interested to see if you had heard this story, if your dad ever mentioned it.
Uh, and if he didn't mention it, especially to you, and a man who loves stories, he probably didn't know about it.
GATES: Do you think trauma, like that is passed down generationally?
LINDELOF: I do.
I mean, I think that not, not supernaturally in the sense of, uh, oh, this is a great secret that was basically kept and now it is passed down in, inside of my DNA, but I do feel that human beings are incredibly empathic.
LINDELOF: And so, the story that I write in my head is, is that my great-grandmother, Marie, how could she be at... She had to be in that kitchen all the time.
You know, you don't just get to sell your house, you know?
So that was the site of the, this horrific accident that burned and scarred her.
And she lost her baby daughter.
And now she has to cook, and, in that kitchen for the rest of her family... GATES: Every day.
LINDELOF: Every day, how is she not fearful?
Or, so, I think that all of these emotional ideas definitely would have transferred to her son, Herbert, and, um, and quite possibly to my dad, David, and possibly to me.
GATES: Much like Damon, Regina King was about to uncover long-hidden secrets within her family tree.
Revealing wounds that were suffered in silence, even as they shaped generations.
The story begins with Regina's own father, Thomas King, Jr, who passed away in 2009, after a life in which he seemingly kept a great deal inside.
KING: Growing up, I just, I never really knew much about him, you know, other than he loved us.
KING: And where he worked.
KING: But, and his friends, you know, who were his good friends.
But never did he share, like, really, uh... Maybe every now and then he would share a funny, you know, childhood story.
KING: But not, not much.
GATES: And he didn't talk about his roots at all?
KING: Not at all, mm-mm.
GATES: We soon discovered what likely motivated this reticence.
In the 1940 census for Memphis, Tennessee, Thomas is listed as a nine-year old boy, living with his mother Ruby and her parents.
But Thomas's father is not in the household, and Ruby has an unusual notation beside her name.
KING: "Marital status: Code seven."
KING: It has married slashed out, Code seven.
Code seven means that her spouse, your grandfather, Thomas Sr. was not present in the home when the census was enumerated, okay?
GATES: Your father grew up without his father.
Did you know that?
KING: No, because I did know my grandfather.
KING: But that's like when I was telling you before about, my dad didn't share much.
KING: From my vantage point as a little girl, my grandfather was definitely in his father's life.
KING: Because I knew my grandfather, my grandfather actually gave me away at my wedding.
GATES: Wow, amazing.
But he wasn't there when your father was a little boy.
KING: No, no.
GATES: And that helps you understand a little bit more... KING: And, and it makes me angry.
KING: Makes me feel sad for my dad.
Um, something happened why he didn't wanna, doesn't wanna, never wanted to talk about it, I guess.
KING: I don't know.
GATES: We now set out to see what exactly happened to Thomas' father, and found our answer in the same census we had just examined.
It showed that he wasn't living anywhere near Regina's grandmother Ruby in Memphis.
Instead, he was living in Chicago, in a house all his own.
KING: "“King, Thomas, head of household, Negro age 31.
Kora, wife Negro, age 27.
"” GATES: Yeah.
KING: I don't understand.
GATES: Well, we're gonna unpack it for you.
That's your grandfather Thomas King, Sr. right?
GATES: Now he's living with another woman named Kora who is reported to be his legal wife.
GATES: And according to the census, they've been living together in the same place for the last five years since April 1935.
Chicago, Regina, as you know, is about 535 miles northeast of Memphis, Tennessee.
GATES: So it looks like your grandfather had a whole life apart from your father.
And your father never ever talked about that?
GATES: So, let's think about your grandmother Ruby.
What do you think it was like for her to pick up the pieces, while realizing that your grandfather, Thomas Sr., had started a whole new life 535 miles away with a whole new woman?
I mean, you know, your mind wonders a lot of things.
And no family stories about these, this double set of relationships?
GATES: And that's sad.
KING: It is sad.
GATES: It's sad, yes.
KING: And my grandmother was a very sad woman.
KING: I remember it, that as a little girl.
GATES: Now you know why.
GATES: As it turns out, Regina's grandfather was no stranger to sadness himself.
He, too, had grown up under challenging circumstances.
His parents, James and Callie King, divorced when he was a child, and soon after, Callie seems to have disappeared from his life.
In the 1930 census, we found her living with a new husband in a new city.
My mind is just...
This is a lot to take in.
GATES: It is a lot to take in.
KING: A lot I've never seen or I've never heard.
GATES: That is your great grandmother Callie.
She had remarried a man named John McKenzie, a railroad porter.
And they were living in Chicago.
GATES: But Callie left her kids behind.
I mean, what do you think that was like for the kids?
What do you think that was like for Callie?
KING: You know, just it's hard to imagine when you hear about women leaving their kids behind... GATES: Mm-hmm.
KING: Just because, I don't know if it's, you know, we, we create these ideas of what things are supposed to be because society has said this is how things are supposed to be so we buy into it.
KING: Um, but...
I just, it's unimaginable.
KING: Just I ca, I can't even imagine it.
KING: You know?
GATES: We had now gone back three generations on Regina's father's family tree, showing how each had been marked by separation and divorce.
For Regina, who went through a divorce herself, the journey had been eye-opening, allowing her to understand her father's actions, as well as her own, in an entirely new light.
KING: You know, you talk about breaking cycles... GATES: Yes.
KING: And I've already failed that.
KING: Um, but I didn't know it was a cycle.
GATES: No, you didn't know.
KING: So, like, now, knowing that it's a cycle, um, I think it's very powerful having that information, to have that information.
And it can actually, in some ways, uh, I feel like, can possibly change the course of what...
I say this, and I say it in the spirit of a person that knows that fate is gonna happen, you can't... GATES: Right.
KING: You know, uh, escape it, what's gonna happen is gonna happen.
But I do feel like, in some ways, having, um, information... GATES: Mm-hmm.
KING: That you didn't have before, does, can play a big part on changing the trajectory that you were expecting to go.
KING: But, you know, pain is inherited.
KING: Um, as well as joy.
GATES: We had now explored some very private ordeals within my guests' family trees.
It was time to widen our lens, and see how those trees had been shaped by larger historical forces.
For Damon Lindelof, this meant focusing on his maternal roots.
Both of his mother's parents were the children of Jewish immigrants, though Damon had few opportunities to gather their stories.
LINDELOF: You know, I felt, um, a great love and kinship with them, but I didn't spend a lot of time with them.
By the time I was born, they had already moved to Florida.
LINDELOF: So I would see them maybe once a year, and they only came up to New Jersey maybe once or twice over the span of my life, so... GATES: Hmm.
LINDELOF: If I, yeah.
GATES: Too cold.
LINDELOF: Yeah, exactly, they were like, "We just left here."
Um, we lived our entire lives here.
GATES: So you never heard anything about their parents or things, good old days back in the old country?
GATES: We began our search with the 1930 census for Bayonne, New Jersey, where we found Damon's grandmother in the home of her parents, Philip and Dora Grodzinsky.
Those names led us back to the passenger manifest for a ship that arrived in New York City on December 19th, 1905.
Damon, you're looking at the moment your maternal great grandparents stepped foot on American soil for the very first time.
What's it like to see that?
LINDELOF: It's cool, you know, I mean, I, I always had this sense that they must've come over to the US in the early part of the 20th century or the very late part of the 19th century, but again, seeing their names written down here, um, you know, it brings them to life in a way.
LINDELOF: And they were so young, well... GATES: Yeah.
I mean, 22 years old.
GATES: And contrary to popular beliefs, most of the immigrants who came through Ellis Island anglicized their own names after arriving.
So, Phillip and Dora were Faivel and Rifka.
GATES: Digging deeper, our researchers noticed that onboard the ship, traveling with the young couple, was Dora's father, Damon's great-great-grandfather, a man named Zusel Lach.
This was a crucial find, because Zusel's entry indicates that he was from Bialystok which, at the time, was part of the notorious "“Pale of Settlement.
"” The region in Russia where the vast majority of its Jewish population had been confined since the time of Catherine The Great.
In the Pale, Jewish people were prevented from holding government positions, barred from owning farmland, and always vulnerable to violence.
It was a terrible place to live.
But for Damon's family, for generations, it was also home.
Damon, we found that record in the Bialystok archives.
GATES: It's written in Cyrillic.
Would you please read the translated section?
LINDELOF: Fievel Mordechai Leibov Grozenski.
GATES: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.
LINDELOF: To Leba Devorah Zsulei Zsuleiva Locke.
LINDELOF: "“Ceremony performed by rabbi, August 3rd, 1905, age of groom, 20, age of bride, 22.
"” GATES: You're looking at Phillip and Dora's marriage certificate.
GATES: What's it like to see that?
That's just, they married four months before they left for Babylon.
LINDELOF: They're so young.
GATES: They were so young.
And they took Dora's father with them, or Dora's father took them with him.
LINDELOF: Yeah, exactly.
He was like, "I'm coming.
"” GATES: Can you imagine being a newlywed, and moving across the world with your new father in-law?
LINDELOF: No, I cannot.
But it seems like the situation in the Pale, there was nowhere to go but up.
GATES: While Damon's ancestors undoubtedly made a wise decision to emigrate, they had relatives who chose differently, and faced devastating consequences.
When Dora left Bialystok, she had a brother, Nochim Lach, who stayed behind.
Nochim is Damon's great grand uncle.
And he, and his wife Rivka and their six children, were still living in Bialystok in June of 1941, when the Nazis invaded.
A diary entry, written by one of their neighbors, describes what happened next.
LINDELOF: "August 17th, 1941.
In Bialystok, they have created a ghetto for Jews.
I was in Bialystok on the last day before the closing of the ghettos gates.
The site was terrible.
Thousands of people kicked, and beaten with meager packs on their backs, running down the city streets.
Jews everywhere were beaten by Germans, and Poles, incited by the Germans, without a sign of mercy.
Every person they encountered, no matter if it was a man, woman, or child."
GATES: What's it like to read this, to know that you had family there?
LINDELOF: I think that any person who identifies as, as Jewish, who is my age knows that we're just really two generations removed from potential obliteration.
LINDELOF: And I think that, um, I'm not surprised by this information, but it's still, um, it's still horrific to read.
GATES: In February of 1943, Nazi forces surrounded the Bialystok ghetto and began deporting its population to concentration camps.
But the men and women in the ghetto did not go meekly.
To the contrary, we found pamphlets written by the Jewish underground encouraging resistance and warning that the camps, in fact, were extermination centers.
LINDELOF: "“Fellow Jews.
Fearsome days have come upon us.
We now face death!
Do not believe the Gestapo propaganda.
The road on which the deportees have gone leads to gigantic crematoria and mass graves.
Let us not passively go like sheep to the slaughter.
When you leave your homes, set fire to them.
Do not let the hangman inherit our possessions!
Go out and fight.
"” GATES: What's it like to read those words?
LINDELOF: Um, it is, it does make me feel better to know that they knew what was happening.
LINDELOF: I think that denial is an incredibly powerful emotion, and we use it to hide behind truths that we'd rather not face.
That's basically resulted in the, erasure, and obfuscation of a lot of American history.
LINDELOF: Um, and anytime that we talk about the Holocaust, we have to face the reality that there are still people here in the year, you know, 2021, that, that say that this didn't happen, that none of this happened.
LINDELOF: The victims knew exactly what was happening as it was happening.
Do you think your great-grandmother Dora who was living in America had any idea about what was going on at the time?
LINDELOF: I don't.
GATES: With her family?
I mean, I would have to imagine that she, um, she knew what, uh, the Nazis, uh, beliefs about the Jews were, but I would have to imagine that any communications coming actually, um, uh, from Eastern Europe have been completely, and totally halted.
LINDELOF: And we know that the American press was not telling the story at all.
LINDELOF: So maybe there would have been a sense of worry that they hadn't heard from their relatives, but I don't think they had any sense that they were being, uh, rounded up and shipped off to crematoria.
GATES: Dora's worst fears, whatever they may have been, would be dwarfed by reality.
Of the 50,000 Jewish people who lived near Bialystok at the start of the Second World War, only a few hundred would survive.
And in the archives of Yad Vashem, the world Holocaust Remembrance Center in Israel, we found six pages of testimony detailing the fate of Damon's relatives.
LINDELOF: "“Name, Nahkem Locke, circumstances of death, ghetto, Bialystok.
Name, Rivka Locke, circumstances of death, ghetto, Bialystok.
Name, Rachel Locke, circumstances of death, ghetto, Bialystok.
Married, number of children, one.
Name, Israel Locke, circumstances of death, ghetto, Bialystok.
Name, Leah Locke, circumstances of death, ghetto, Bialystok.
Married, number of children, two.
Name, Leah Locke, circumstances of death, ghetto, Bialystok.
"” So the whole family.
GATES: So the whole family.
Your great-grandmother Dora's brother, Nahkem, and his wife Rivka, and four of their children died in the Bialystok ghetto.
LINDELOF: Well, we know what would have happened to Dora had she not made it out.
And you visited Yad Vashem.
GATES: Did it ever occur to you that you had family members listed in its records?
LINDELOF: I, I assumed there must be... some line of family, um, but I didn't know their names.
I didn't know who the Lockes were.
LINDELOF: I wouldn't even know where to look before today.
GATES: What's it like to, to learn this, to be able to, um, particularize the Holocaust in this intimate, and, and horribly sad way?
LINDELOF: It's somewhat of a, um, an affirmation of survival in some strange way.
LINDELOF: I think that, um, I think that one of the ways that we contextualize tragedy as storytellers is, you know, "Tell me the story of the person who made it off the Titanic."
LINDELOF: And so, I just feel like there's an entire tens of thousands of, hundred thousands of, millions of Jews who don't exist because of what happened, and I'm one of the lucky ones.
LINDELOF: You know, because Dora, Dora got, Dora got married, and she got on a boat.
GATES: How will you pass this news onto your next generation in your own family?
LINDELOF: I have a son.
He's 14, so he, he's been to Yad Vashem, so he knows what the Holocaust was.
LINDELOF: And now I think that he can feel more directly connected to it in the same way that I do, understanding that he's, you know... That the decision that Dora and, uh, and Fievel made is why he's here too.
LINDELOF: So I definitely can't wait to show him the book.
GATES: We'd already traced Regina King's paternal roots back three generations, revealing a painful pattern of divorce and separation.
Now, turning to her mother's ancestry, we encountered a family that had endured a very different kind of trauma.
In the 1880 census for Alabama, we found Regina's third great-grandparents, Bob and Ellen Cain, living with their eight children.
Based on their ages, we believed that Bob and Ellen were a couple during the slave era.
And, in the archives of Elmore County, Alabama, we saw how they were ultimately able to cement their union.
KING: "To any ordained or licensed minister of the gospel, you are hereby authorized to celebrate the rights of matrimony between Bob Cain, colored, and Ellen Cain, colored, this 17th day of October, AD 1870."
GATES: Isn't that cool?
GATES: This is the marriage certificate for your third great grandparents, Bob and Ellen Cain, from the year 1870.
Five years after the end of the Civil War.
What's it like to see that?
KING: It's awesome to see it.
GATES: And think about this.
As enslaved people, it was illegal for them to get married.
GATES: So, basically, as soon as they could... KING: They did it.
GATES: They did it.
What do you think it meant for them as a couple to be able to be married and have their vows sanctioned and recognized by the state?
KING: Well... GATES: As well as God?
KING: I think that that's what I was just about to say.
That to be recognized, it was being seen.
KING: Being seen as, um, not just some, you know, Negro man... GATES: Mm-hmm.
KING: Negro woman... GATES: Mm-hmm.
KING: That have a, a bunch of pickaninnies, as they would say.
KING: You know?
KING: But, as a, a husband and wife.
KING: A married couple.
A family... GATES: Mm-hmm.
KING: In the eyes of the law.
KING: Because, I believe they always knew that they were a family and a married couple in the eyes of, of, of God.
But, yeah, I'm sure that being seen.
KING: Under these conditions... GATES: Mm-hmm.
KING: Is powerful.
GATES: We wanted to trace the Cain's back in time.
So we returned to Alabama's archives, where we identified a White slave-owner named E.M. Cain, who lived close to where Bob and Ellen married after the Civil War.
The 1860 census contains a slave schedule for E.M.
Listing his human property by sex, age and color, but not by name.
Even so, it offered Regina the opportunity, possibly, to glimpse her enslaved ancestors.
So remember, this record was recorded in 1860.
So Bob, would have been about 18 years old.
And Ellen would have been about 15 years old.
So do you see any people who were around that age... KING: I see that.
GATES: On this document in front of you?
The one Black male, age 17, one Black female, age 15.
GATES: Right, so, what do you think?
Could you be looking at your ancestors listed anonymously on a slave schedule?
KING: I think I could be.
GATES: Well, we thought it was certainly possible, but we needed more evidence.
KING: Right, right.
GATES: So we kept looking.
We wanted to see if in this White man slave owner's records, your ancestors could be recorded by name, like on a tax register, in a will, anything.
GATES: So see what we found.
Would you please turn the page?
Regina, this is amazing.
This is a will from the year 1851.
It's a record from the estate of a man named Elisha Cain.
He was E.M. Cain's grandfather, and he died on April 11, 1851.
Would you please read the portion that we've transcribed for you?
KING: "The following Negroes: To wit, Bob, a boy about six.
The above named Negroes are to be equally divided between my two grandsons, Elijah Cain and Ruben McDuffie Cain.
"” GATES: Regina, we believe that you just read the name of your third great-grandfather listed as property... KING: Property.
GATES: Bequeathed in the will of a White man.
GATES: This will details how Regina's third great-grandfather, who was only about six years old, was to be passed from one generation of his owner's family to another.
Tellingly, it makes no mention of the boy's mother, nor does it show any regard for his well-being.
KING: It makes me angry.
Because, you know, did he know his mother?
You know, and if he did, how long?
And even on the same plantation, you could wake up one day and your mother be sold away.
KING: Away, yeah.
GATES: Or you could be sold away.
KING: And he's a boy that's six... GATES: That's right.
KING: That's just alone.
And you know, I couldn't imagine at six years old being alone.
KING: And you know, seeing it like this and seeing it written... GATES: Yeah.
KING: Just um, just kind of hits differently.
I was thinking about what I was doing at the age of six.
What were you doing at the age of six?
KING: At the age of six, I was...
Safe, I was safe.
KING: I wasn't hungry.
I knew my sister.
KING: You know?
But to think and that's where I'd know our resilience comes from.
Bob and Ellie went on to have how many kids?
They kept on, keeping on.
GATES: 19 years later... KING: Yeah.
GATES: After that will, they are married.
KING: They are married.
GATES: And, I want to show you something else.
Please turn the page.
Any idea who that guy is?
KING: The dude that bequeathed?
GATES: You're looking at the man, we believe, who owned your ancestors.
That is E.M. Cain.
Now take a hard look at that face.
What's it like for you to see this?
KING: I guess because the way photographs are taken, they're taking designed for the subject to look as though they're looking at you.
KING: And I don't want my, put my glasses on to look at him.
KING: I don't want to wonder what he's thinking in this moment.
KING: I don't want to.
There is a final beat to this story, a far happier one.
The same archives that hold evidence of Bob Cain's enslavement also show that when freedom came, he was not the least bit afraid to claim his rights as an American citizen.
KING: "Return of qualified voters, County of Elmore, State of Alabama.
Date of registry, July 5th.
Name of voter, Cain Robert, colored.
June, July 5th, 1867."
"Name of voter, Cain Robert, colored."
GATES: Two years after the end of the Civil War and the ratification of the 13th Amendment, your ancestor, though he was illiterate, as soon as it was... KING: It was... GATES: Legal, which was made legal by the Reconstruction Act, he registered to vote.
KING: To vote.
GATES: He said, "I am going to make my purchase on being a citizen..."” KING: Yes.
GATES: "In America, and I am going to register to vote."
Do you know, I have, how rare that is to be able to show somebody the voter registration certificate... KING: Yeah, yeah.
GATES: Of their third great-grandfather two years out of slavery?
KING: That's amazing.
GATES: That's bad, that's bad!
KING: It's, so now these are happy tears.
Um, because, um, he understood the importance of that and what that meant.
KING: And like you said, even though he couldn't read and he couldn't write, he could feel.
KING: Yeah, I did not...
I don't know what I expected.
This is pretty fantastic.
GATES: The paper trail had run out for Regina and Damon, it was time to unfurl their full family trees, now filled with ancestors.
LINDELOF: Oh, wow.
GATES: Who had endured so much.
LINDELOF: It's a bit intimidating to be at the bottom of this.
GATES: For each, the experience had been deeply moving.
(exhales) GATES: Offering them a chance to reconsider their own identities in light of the stories that we had recovered.
KING: It's emotional.
GATES: Oh, thank you.
Looking back over all we'd seen, Regina found her thoughts returning once more to her enslaved ancestors.
KING: It deepens the knowledge because it is an experience that is directly related to me... GATES: Mm-hmm.
KING: And while we all know that we are directly related to descendants of slavery, um, it just makes it so much more powerful when you actually have names to it... GATES: Mm-hmm.
KING: And stories to it.
And it makes me hope, I think, even more that I am alive to see when systems are crumbling.
I hope to see it, I always hope to see it, but now... GATES: Now.
KING: It's, I really hope that... GATES: I do, too.
And I'm 70... KING: Yeah.
GATES: And I'm, I wanna see it.
GATES: 'Cause it's been a long time coming.
GATES: For Damon, the experience reinvigorated the question that had brought us together in the first place.
What have we, as Americans, inherited from our shared history?
LINDELOF: I think that my, my identity, as an American, is ever evolving.
It's something that, for the majority of my life, I was intensely proud of and remain proud of.
But I think that when you go on a journey like this one, the context of identifying by nationality begins to feel like it's, uh, a gross oversimplification of who we are, as human beings.
GATES: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.
LINDELOF: We are the products of individuals, um, not, uh, denizens of a country or nationality or a particular creed.
LINDELOF: So I guess, in some ways, as, as much as I love this country, I feel less American... GATES: Hmm.
LINDELOF: Now, than I did when you and I first, began speaking.
GATES: More a citizen of the world?
That's the end of our search for the ancestors of Regina King and Damon Lindelof.
Join me next time as we unlock the secrets of the past for new guests, on another episode of Finding Your Roots.