FRONTLINE ONLINE Reveals Blurred Racial Lines of Prominent Families

Frontline Online
Press Release – 14 February 1997


February 14, 1997

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT:
Jim Bracciale [jim_bracciale@wgbh.org]
Diane Hebert [diane_hebert@wgbh.org]
(617) 783-3500
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/secret/famous/

FRONTLINE ONLINE Reveals Blurred Racial Lines of Prominent Families

BOSTON — February 14, 1997 (INB) — What do the Queen of England, actor Peter Ustinov, the Medici family, the Vanderbilts, and Melrose Place vixen Heather Locklear have in common? All descend from black racial family lines.

In the midst of America’s growing debate over racial classifications, the PBS documentary series FRONTLINE has mounted “Blurred Racial Lines,” a Web-exclusive feature accessible at www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/secret/famous. This FRONTLINE ONLINE feature includes surprising revelations about the African ancestry of some powerful European dynasties and famous Americans.

Mario de Valdes y Cocom, an independent scholar in black history, spent years compiling much of the material published. Valdes, a Jesuit-educated Belizean of European, Mayan, and African ancestry, worked with genealogical records, archival material, and noted genealogical researchers to assemble scholarly, yet entertaining, profiles of:

* Heather Locklear. Locklear’s surname means “hold fast” in the language of the Tuscarora tribes, and she seems to have descended from ancestry which is a mixture of European, Indian, and African.

* Queen Elizabeth II. The current monarch is the great-great-great-great-granddaughter of Queen Charlotte, wife of George III, descendent of a black branch of the Portuguese Royal House.

*Peter Ustinov. On his father’s side, Ustinov is a member of the old Russian nobility. On his mother’s side, he is a member of the Ethiopian Royal Family.

* The Medici family. This noble family of Italy included Allesandro de Medici, who was born to a black serving woman and seventeen-year-old Cardinal Giulio de Medici, who later became Pope Clement VII. The greater majority of the noble houses of Italy can today trace their ancestry back to Alessandro de Medici and so can a number of other princely families of Europe.

“Modern historical discussion has overlooked much of the African ancestry of prominent white families because of the negative image,” says Valdes. “Nobody wants to hear about successful blacks as it spoils the historical image.”

In addition, Valdes developed separately at this site “Secretum Sigillum,” an iconographical study on the symbolism of the black image during the Middle Ages and, in particular, the positive symbol of the blackamoor in European coats of arms. “Secretum Sigillum” is threaded with pictures, illustrations, and descriptions covering a range of black images and their sources from St. Maurice, the black patron saint of the Holy Roman Empire, to a look at blackness as an allusion to God, wisdom, and the concept of justice, to the early 19th Century insignia designed by Pope Pius VII, called the Moretto or, in English, the “Little Moor.”

“Blurred Racial Lines” is located at the companion Web site to FRONTLINE’s November 1996 broadcast “Secret Daughter,” producer June Cross’s intimate story of her own experience as a black daughter coming to terms with her white mother’s decision to give her away when she became “too dark to pass for white.”

Also included on the “Secret Daughter” Web site:

* “Audio Stories.” RealAudio interviews with Jerry Lewis and other entertainers talking about the hidden history of race and show business in the post-WWII period.

* “Discussion Board.” Dozens of viewers e-mail postings telling their own stories of multiracial relations, race and showbiz, and lost family members.

* “How to Search You Own Family History.” General information for researching a family tree, using the Internet’s genealogical gateways, information on researching African-American family history, and information on those who are adopted and seeking parents.

* “Bi-Racial American Portraits.” The exhibition developed from anthropologist Marion Kilson’s “Claiming Place: Biracial American Portraits,” interviews with young adult biracial Americans across the country with whom she explored memories and perceptions of race and racial identity. Texts accompanying each of Max Belcher’s color portraits derive from those interviews.

* “Readings.” A selection of readings on racial self-identity, racial classification, and black and white relations.

“FRONTLINE has seized an opportunity to expand its journalistic mission on the Web with this site,” says FRONTLINE Senior Executive Producer David Fanning. “Mario Valdes has assembled, and continues to augment, a wealth of information on how history has hidden positive black imagery. “Blurred Racial Lines” is a unique archive of material that is of particular educational and scholarly value as we celebrate Black History Month.”

Funding for FRONTLINE and FRONTLINE ONLINE is provided by the support of public television viewers.

The executive producer for FRONTLINE is Michael Sullivan. The senior executive producer for FRONTLINE is David Fanning.

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