LeVar Burton Reacts To Discovery That His Ancestor Was A Confederate Soldier

LeVar Burton
Tommaso Boddi/WireImage via Getty Images

“Star Trek” actor LeVar Burton was shocked to discover that one of his ancestors was a white Confederate soldier.

The 66-year-old TV star was told the surprising fact about his lineage during an episode of the PBS series “Finding Your Roots.” The former “Reading Rainbow” star told show host Henry Louis Gates Jr. that he didn’t know much about his family tree as he was estranged from his father, Levardis Robert Martyn Burton, since he was 11. Burton also mentioned that his mother, Erma Gene Christian, wasn’t forthcoming about the family’s background, according to People.

“You grow up with just blanks, right? No information, no clue and no real way to overcome that blind spot,” Burton said of his family history, per the Los Angeles Times. “This information is stuff that we need in order to feel whole.”

Gates told Burton that the team used a combination of a genealogist and DNA experts to come up with their findings about the actor’s past.

The “Star Trek: The Next Generation” alum had no idea one of his ancestors was a white man. Gates told Burton that his great-grandmother on his mother’s side, Mary Sills, was not related to the man she listed as her father on a Social Security application in 1940.

Her biological father was, in fact, a man named James Henry Dixon, a white farmer who was married with several children. “So Granny was half-white,” Burton said in surprise, per Today.


What’s more, Dixon, who was living in North Carolina, joined the Confederate Army after he turned 17, serving in the junior reserves.

“Are you kidding me? Oh my God, oh my God. I did not see this coming,” Burton said upon hearing the news. While Gates said it was likely that Sills never went into battle, the fact remained that he was aligned with the pro-slavery side of the Civil War. He later had a child with a woman born into slavery.

“I often wonder about white men of the period and how they justify to themselves their relations with black women, especially those in an unbalanced power dynamic. There has to be a powerful disconnect created emotionally and mentally,” Burton replied.

“The two major commercial DNA tests almost never have tested an African American who was 100% sub-Saharan African,” Gates told Burton. “We all have white ancestors.”

“There’s some conflict roiling inside of me right now,” Burton continued, per Today. “But oddly enough, I feel 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.”

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The Daily Wire   >  Read   >  LeVar Burton Reacts To Discovery That His Ancestor Was A Confederate Soldier