Billy Porter uncovers story behind great grandfather’s death by police

NBC’s . on Sunday’s season premiere of Who Do You Think You Are?, Actor and activist Billy Porter embarks on a journey to uncover the history of his family and, eventually, discover the true story behind the death of his great-grandfather, Thomas Henry Richardson.

Porter shared, “I remember hearing a story that my great-grandfather was shot in the back. It’s a matter of conversation.” After looking at Richardson’s death certificate and several newspaper articles from 1923, he was surprised to read that his great-grandfather had been shot not in the back, but in the chest. However, Nika Sewell-Smith, historian-generist of the Ancestor family, told Porter that white newspapers, at the time, wrote stories “in a special way” that was different from black newspapers.

In Pittsburgh CourierSewell-Smith, a publication devoted to reporting on the black community, reported that the story identifies the fact that Porter’s great-grandfather was shot and killed by a police officer. “Investigation uncovers fact that white police officer ‘with a reputation for shooting’ killed Joseph Richardson in cold blood,” Porter read.

When Porter questioned what happened to the police officer who shot her great-grandfather, he was not surprised to learn that the jury cleared the officer of the murder charge, but was still overcome with emotion.

“The thing I hate most is injustice,” Porter said, “how we constantly take this information, constantly take this trauma, constantly live through it, and Yet show up for our lives? Violence against people of color is totally American and reading this really sheds light on why it’s never talked about.”

Viewers were also emotional at Porter’s discovery, especially since these tragedies still exist a century later:

Fortunately, it wasn’t all sad. Porter also learned that his great, great, great-grandparents were part of the 10% of black people in America who were freed early, which was empowering for him.

“Now when someone asks me, ‘How do you have so much power? How can you stand up to a world that rejects you,’ it’s like, I’ve come from both sides. You know, I Came from people who were there all the time. I am who I am because of who I am,” Porter shared.

Porter concluded, “After all these centuries, my coming down here has seen my family in a way they could never have imagined. And, you know, discovering these distinctive stories from both sides of me.” And I’m grateful for revealing. Family, it feels really empowering, magical.”

Who Do You Think You Are? airs Sundays at 7 pm NBC,

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