African American Lives 2 -- Hosted by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
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Russia 1800s Russia.

When my sister and I saw the photograph of my father's step-grandfather, taken in Russia in the mid 1800s, we both said "He's Black!" I was raised as a Reform Jew, and while I've always felt that I must be Black, there was no evidence to back this up. This photograph that my cousin found was still not evidence... as the man in the picture was supposedly not a blood relation. This didn't feel right to me, and I was left with nagging questions.

My father's mother was married twice. With the first husband she had two sons. With the second husband she had three sons. My father was nine months old when this first husband left the family. There was a divorce, and a few years later my father's mother remarried. Despite the lapse between marriages, it has been my understanding that there was always some question as to which of my grandother's husbands was my dad's birth father. No one ever knew what became of the first husband, or the circumstances of the divorce.

Now here was this photograph.

One night when I was visiting my father, I looked at the photograph for the zillionth time. This time I took a closer look at the woman in the photograph--the great grandmother. That's when I saw it. Her eyes. They were exactly my father's eyes; the pale, unusually upward-slanted, almond shaped eyes. No one has eyes like this! My father was sleeping. I woke him up, waved the photograph in front of him. "These people were your grandparents!!!! I have no doubt!!!!"

Since I have always believed that I'm black, this was like finding my birth mother!

I wanted to go further. But my father refused to have a DNA test, despite the fact that his younger brother agreed to it in a heartbeat, saying " I've always thought we had the same father!"

(As we all age, this uncle and my father look more and more alike. And his daughter and I look more and more alike.)

I wonder not so much how a Black man came to be living in Russia in the 1800's, as I wonder how he came to be Jewish!?!? There is another story on this web site that might be a clue to that. I think my cousin originally said that the photo was taken in St. Petersburg, but I'm not sure of that. I'd always heard that all my grandparents, except my mother's father- who was Lithuanian, were from Latvia.

I've just sent email to my brother asking him if he'd be willing to take a DNA test with my uncle.

So we'll see....

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