A growing number of people are beginning to use ancestry and genealogical databases to discover their roots. Celebrities are no different. Many of them were surprised to find that their lineage traced back to Africa, and you may be surprised, too, when you find out where these 10 African American public figures are really from.
2020 presidential candidate Cory Booker said it was “amazing” to discover that he was of Sierra Leonean descent. He learned of his ancestry through a DNA analysis conducted by the geneticist, Rick Kittles, and it was presented to him on the PBS program, Finding Your Roots.
Booker is the first African-American Senator from New Jersey and the first of Sierra Leonean descent to seek the office of President of the United States.
When American actress, comedian and daytime television host, Whoopi Goldberg, discovered in 2007 that she was of Guinea-Bissau descent, governmental officials were so excited that they sent her a letter.
“The news has awoken in each and every one of us a deep sense of fraternity….we simply cannot remain indifferent to the news of your Guinean heritage,” the letter wrote.
Goldberg, born Caryn Elaine Johnson in Chelsea, New York, comes from the Guinean village of Ome.
Queensbridge rapper Nas really meant it when he said in a verse on the Stillmatic album that he wished he “could flap wings and fly away/to where black kings in Ghana stay.”
His middle name “bin Olu Dara” comes from the Yoruba people of Nigeria, and he also has ties to Benin, Togo, Ghana, and the Ivory Coast. More specifically, he comes from the Yoruba and Fulbe tribes of West Africa.
Billionaire media mogul Oprah Winfrey found out on a show called African American Lives that her ancestry traced back to three different countries: Liberia (the Kpelle people), Cameroon (the Bamileke) and Zambia (a Bantu-speaking tribe).
“I’ve got to say, when it happened to me, it was absolutely empowering to know the journey of my entire family,” Oprah said in a book written by Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. called Finding Oprah’s Roots: Finding Yours.
South Carolina’s history has heavy connections to parts of Africa, but it still came as a surprise when the state native, comedian Chris Rock, found that his roots stem from the Udeme people (Ouldémé) of northern Cameroon.
After learning about his family’s history, he told Oprah that he hopes “everybody learns where they come from so their lives can make more sense.”
Former Miss America and actress Vanessa Williams was born in Brooklyn, New York but as a DNA analysis shows the actress is 23% Ghanaian, 15% Cameroonian, 7% Togolese and 5% Senegalese.
“Now, I can’t wait to go to Ghana and Cameroon and Togo and Senegal — it’s a great opportunity to see why the customs resonate with you,” she told Ancestry.com who provided her with her DNA results.