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Vanessa Williams

Actress Vanessa L Williams, who faced racial prejudice when she became the first black woman to be crowned Miss America, goes on the trail of two of her ancestors who fought courageously to extend the rights and freedoms of black people in the USA.

Her ancestor David Carll was one of the first to enlist after the ban on black soldiers serving on the Union side of the Civil War was lifted and, at the National Archives in Washington, DC, Vanessa uncovers an unbelievably rare tintype photograph of him.

Going further back, Vanessa uncovers another ancestor, William A Fields, who not only went from slave to schoolteacher in little more than 20 years, but ended up serving as a legislator in the Tennessee National Assembly. Through the pioneering work of her ancestor, Vanessa is able to see how in the nineteenth century black people briefly glimpsed the possibility of human rights before the segregation laws, violence and intimidation of the Ku Klux Klan closed that door again. It would be nearly 100 years before another African-American would be elected to office.

30 minutes

Last on

Wed 30 Nov 2011 23:15
BBC One Northern Ireland, Wales only


Role Contributor
Executive ProducerAlex Graham
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