NBC’s Who Do You Think You Are? kicked off its Sunday season premiere with actor Billy Porter. The episode was an in depth exploration of Porter’s family’s history and included a story behind the death of his great-grandfather Thomas Henry Richardson at the hands of a white police officer.
Porter found Richardson’s death certificate as well as several newspaper articles dating back to 1923 and discovered his great-grandfather was shot in the chest, not his back as he previously believed. The actor learned that the jury acquitted the officer of the murder charge and was visibly upset.
“The thing I hate the most on the planet is injustice,” Porter remarked. “How do we continually take in this information, continually take in this trauma, continually live through this, and still show up for our lives? Violence against people of color is wholly American and reading this really sheds light on why it was never spoken about.”
Porter also discovered that his great, great, great-grandparents were part of the 10% of Black people in America that were freed inhabitants. He commented on how proud he was of this:
“Now when somebody asks me, ‘How do you have so much strength? How can you stand up to a world that dismisses you,’ it’s, like, I come from this on both sides. You know, I came from people who were making a way out of no way the whole time. I am who I am because of who I come from.”
“All these centuries later, me coming down here has made my family seen in ways that they never could have imagined. And, you know, what I’m grateful for in discovering and uncovering these specific stories from both sides of my family, it feels empowering, magical actually.”