Following the news that he is part-white and has a Confederate ancestor, LeVar Burton admits he’s “conflicted” about the information.
Burton made an appearance on PBS’ Finding Your Roots earlier this week. The show’s host, Henry Louis Gates Jr. revealed that the Reading Rainbow star’s family tree dates back to the 1800s, with a white man being part of the tree.
Gates Jr. pointed out that a woman on LeVar Burton’s mother’s side, Mary Sills, originally listed that her father was a black man named Louis Sills. However, the DNA tests show that isn’t true. It was actually a white farmer from the south named James Henry Dixon who was her father.
Gates Jr. said that not only was Dixon a white Southerner, but he also served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. He died in 1906 and was the father of nine children. He also had 40 grandchildren.
Taken aback by the information he received, Burton said, “There’s some conflict roiling inside of me right now.”
However, LeVar Burton was optimistic and said he felt a “pathway” opening up. “Knowing what I know about the history of this nation, I’ve wanted, especially in this current time frame, I believe that as Americans we need to have this conversation about who we are and how we got here.”
Burton also stated he had been looking for an “entry point” to talk about “White America” and added, “Here it is.”
LeVar Burton References His ‘Roots’ Character After Discovering He Has a White Ancestor
Meanwhile, LeVar Burton referenced his Roots character, Kunta Kinte, while discussing his white ancestor.
“I’d a fought you five minutes if you told me that I had a white great-great-grandfather,” Burton stated. “What! Kunta got white ancestry, what? Come on now.”
Gates Jr. further spoke about Dixon, including more details about his life and occupations. “As a young man, James served to protect slavery,” the host explained. “But as an adult, he fathered a child with an African American woman who had been born into slavery.”
Gates Jr. also showed a picture of Dixon. Burton learned more about his father, Levardis Robert Lee Burton, who was born in Cherry Valley, Arkansas. His father, whom the actor had an estranged relationship with, also had a tumultuous relationship with his grandparents. “Cycles do repeat themselves,” Burton pointed out.
Burton went on to add that he was ecstatic about the discoveries in his family tree. “I can’t even explain how it feels to get this information.”